Comcast.net, MSNBC.com, and Verizonwireless.com are among the
company Web sites targeted by a pair of powerful congressmen in the wake of
reports of their use of consumer-tracking devices.
Citing a Wall Street Journal
investigation, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.), co-chairs of
the House Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, sent letters to those and a dozen
"We are troubled by the findings in this report, which suggest
that the price of consumers' unfettered use of the Internet increasingly is
surrender of their personal information, preferences and intimate details to
websites, data monitoring companies, marketers and other information gathering
firms that seek to track them online and develop digital dossiers for a range
of purposes, including marketing," they said in announcing the inquiry.
Among the questions they want answered are what information is
collected, how it is collected (cookies, "surveillance"), what third
parties may be involved, what information they provided users and what options
they have not to be tracked or targeted.
The letters come as Congress is contemplating privacy legislation
giving surfers more and clearer information about tracking and targeting, and
more options for controlling whether and how their information is used.
Legislators, notably Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who was an early
champion of privacy legislation and is working on a bill, has
acknowledged the value of targeted advertising in pinpointing ads of
interest, and the general value of advertising in keeping much net content
free. But he is also concerned about protecting sensitive personal information,
and giving surfers clear notice about, and more control over, the collection
and use of non-sensitive info.
Sites getting letters were Dictionary.com; MSN.com; Comcast.net;
AOL.com; Merriam-Webster.com; Photobucket.com; Answers.com; Careerbuilder.com;
MSNBC.com; Live.com; Myspace.com; Yahoo.com; Verizonwireless.com; Yp.com; and About.com.