Compliance Management, Privacy

Behavioral advertising bill being drafted

Updated Monday, March 16, 2009 at 5:24 p.m. EST

Three U.S. congressmen are drafting a bill that would require companies to disclose to users that their internet activity is being tracked for behavioral advertising purposes.

Although companies such as AOL, Yahoo and Microsoft have been using behavioral advertising for up to 10 years, Google's announcement last week to jump on the bandwagon has ignited discussion among privacy groups – and now lawmakers.

Rep. Cliff Stearns, R.-Fla., is one of the congressmen involved in drafting a general privacy bill, which will contain provisions to regulate behavioral advertising, his spokesman told 

"Consumers need to know what information is being collected, who is collecting the information, and what are they doing with the information," Stearns told Monday in an email. "The more information that is available to consumers will empower them to make the best decisions when it comes to their own personal privacy."

Stearns is working on the bill with Rep. Rick Boucher, D.-Va., according to the New York Times. Other media outlets have reported that Rep. Joe Barton, R.-Texas, also is working on the bill.

Google's “interest-based” advertising system is based on the type of websites users visit. Google will place users into interest categories – such as sports, cars and cats – and serve ads related to these categories, Nicole Wong, deputy general counsel at Google, told last week. Users will have the option of modifying the interest categories they fall into or “opt-out” by downloading a browser plug-in, which permanently stores the user's preference for opting out of interest-based ads.

Boucher told the Times that websites participating in behavioral advertising should be required to obtain explicit permission from a user and should be required to disclose how they collect and use data.

Lillie Coney, associate director of the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), applauded the action of Congress, saying that behavioral advertising services will become more transparent and better understood if there are laws regulating them.

Stearns said that Congress has been looking into these issues for a number of years.

"We need to be sure that we do it right and not rush into regulation that is overly burdensome and unclear," Stearns said.

But if a law passes, one of the challenges may be enforcement, especially if the advertising company is located outside of the United States, she told on Monday.

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