September 8, 2009 in Business

Web privacy scrutinized

Bill tightens rules on advertisers
Joelle Tessler Associated Press
 

WASHINGTON – The Web sites we visit, the online links we click, the search queries we conduct, the products we put in virtual shopping carts, the personal details we reveal on social networking pages – all of this can give companies insight into what Internet ads we might be interested in seeing.

But privacy watchdogs warn that too many people have no idea that Internet marketers are tracking their online habits and then mining that data to serve up targeted pitches – a practice known as behavioral advertising.

So Congress could be stepping in. Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, is drafting a bill that would impose broad new rules on Web sites and advertisers. His goal: to ensure that consumers know what information is being collected about them on the Web and how it is being used, and to give them control over that information.

While Congress has waded into Internet privacy issues before, this measure could break new ground, as the first major attempt to regulate a nascent but fast-growing industry that represents the future of advertising. Boucher insists his bill will benefit consumers and preserve the underlying economics of the Internet, which relies on advertising to keep so much online content free.

Although his proposal is still taking shape, Boucher is confident lawmakers will pass an online marketing privacy law of some sort. He is working with Cliff Stearns of Florida, the top Republican on the Internet subcommittee, as well as Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., who chairs a separate subcommittee on consumer protection.

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