Analytics
7/9/2008
10:00 AM
50%
50%

Congress Opens Debate on Behavioral Advertising

Businesses say tracking users' online behavior is a benefit; privacy advocates say it's a threat

On Capitol Hill today, two opposing sides fired the first shots in what promises to be a heated debate over whether or not Internet service providers and other businesses should be allowed to track users' behavior in detail as they travel across the Web.

At issue is the emerging technology offered by companies such as the U.S.-based NebuAd and the U.K.-based Phorm, which are currently doing trials with ISPs to study users' clickstreams and deliver banner advertising that is tailored to their online behavior. Some of these trials have come under hailstorms of criticism from privacy advocates, and in some cases, ISPs have chosen to postpone the rollout of new services until privacy issues have been addressed.

In testimony today before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, legislators began grappling with the benefits and dangers associated with behavioral advertising.

So far, there is no proposed legislation on the practice in Congress, but some privacy advocates say there should be, and others say NebuAd and Phorm could be classified as spyware that is illegal under current law.

Leaders of the subcommittee appeared mostly to be in fact-finding mode, but several expressed concerns over the practice of behavioral advertising.

"Too many consumers spend time on the Internet without knowledge or notice that they are under commercial surveillance," stated Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), who chairs the subcommittee. "They assume they are in the privacy of their own home and that this privacy will be respected. Unfortunately, this is not always the case."

Bob Dykes, CEO of NebuAd and a former executive vice president at Symantec, says his company's technology is only an extension of current practices for tracking online behavior and poses no threat to user privacy. The system is designed to track activity without collecting personal information or allowing the ISP to trace behavior back to a specific user, he said.

But Leslie Harris, president and CEO of the Center for Democracy and Technology, notes that the current federal Wiretap Act prohibits the interception and disclosure of electronic communications -- including Internet traffic content -- without the user's consent. While there is an exception in the law that allows providers to collect data that is "necessary to render service," behavioral advertising should not be "shoehorned" into that exception, Harris said.

Harris urged the legislators to pass basic laws that would allow users to opt out of all forms of Internet tracking.

Jane Horvath, senior privacy counsel at Google, noted that the search engine currently provides capabilities such as Web history, which allows the user to delete information about surfing activity or stop data collection.

"Clearly, as a technological phenomenon, mass transactional data tracking and collection are here to stay," said Wayne Crews, vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Dark Reading's editors directly, send us a message.

Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Cartoon
Current Issue
Flash Poll
Threat Intel Today
Threat Intel Today
The 397 respondents to our new survey buy into using intel to stay ahead of attackers: 85% say threat intelligence plays some role in their IT security strategies, and many of them subscribe to two or more third-party feeds; 10% leverage five or more.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2015-4231
Published: 2015-07-03
The Python interpreter in Cisco NX-OS 6.2(8a) on Nexus 7000 devices allows local users to bypass intended access restrictions and delete an arbitrary VDC's files by leveraging administrative privileges in one VDC, aka Bug ID CSCur08416.

CVE-2015-4232
Published: 2015-07-03
Cisco NX-OS 6.2(10) on Nexus and MDS 9000 devices allows local users to execute arbitrary OS commands by entering crafted tar parameters in the CLI, aka Bug ID CSCus44856.

CVE-2015-4234
Published: 2015-07-03
Cisco NX-OS 6.0(2) and 6.2(2) on Nexus devices has an improper OS configuration, which allows local users to obtain root access via unspecified input to the Python interpreter, aka Bug IDs CSCun02887, CSCur00115, and CSCur00127.

CVE-2015-4237
Published: 2015-07-03
The CLI parser in Cisco NX-OS 4.1(2)E1(1), 6.2(11b), 6.2(12), 7.2(0)ZZ(99.1), 7.2(0)ZZ(99.3), and 9.1(1)SV1(3.1.8) on Nexus devices allows local users to execute arbitrary OS commands via crafted characters in a filename, aka Bug IDs CSCuv08491, CSCuv08443, CSCuv08480, CSCuv08448, CSCuu99291, CSCuv0...

CVE-2015-4239
Published: 2015-07-03
Cisco Adaptive Security Appliance (ASA) Software 9.3(2.243) and 100.13(0.21) allows remote attackers to cause a denial of service (device reload) by sending crafted OSPFv2 packets on the local network, aka Bug ID CSCus84220.

Dark Reading Radio
Archived Dark Reading Radio
Marc Spitler, co-author of the Verizon DBIR will share some of the lesser-known but most intriguing tidbits from the massive report