Privacy Groups Call For Limits On Behavioral Ads

    September 2, 2009

A coalition of ten consumer and privacy advocacy groups is calling on Congress to limit the ability of companies to offer online behavioral advertising and tracking of Internet users.

"Today, electronic information from consumers is collected, compiled, and sold; all done without reasonable safeguards," the groups said in letters to the House Commerce Committee. The letters were signed by advocacy groups including the Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Consumers Union.

Amina Fazlullah, U.S. Public Interest Research Group
Amina Fazlullah
U.S. Public Interest
Research Group

"Tracking people’s every move online is an invasion of privacy. Online behavioral tracking is even more distressing when consumers aren’t aware who is tracking them, that it’s happening, or how the information will be used," the groups said.

"Often consumers are not asked for their consent and have no meaningful control over the collection and use of their information, often by third parties with which they have no relationships."

The main points the coalition said should be included consumer privacy legislation include:

  •  Sensitive information should not be collected or used for behavioral tracking or targeting.
  •  No behavioral data should be collected or used from anyone under age 18 to the extent that age can be inferred.  
  • Web sites and ad networks shouldn’t be able to collect or use behavioral data for more than 24 hours without getting the individual’s affirmative consent.  
  • Behavioral data shouldn’t be used to unfairly discriminate against people or in any way that would affect an individual’s credit, education, employment, insurance, or access to government benefits.

"The rise of behavioral tracking has made it possible for consumer information to be almost invisibly tracked, compiled and potentially misused on or offline," said Amina Fazlullah of U.S. Public Interest Research Group.

"It’s critical that government enact strong privacy regulations whose protections will remain with consumers as they interact on their home computer, cell phones, PDAs or even at the store down the street."