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EC Launches Probe Into Deep Packet Inspection

Behavioral advertising services may violate users' right to privacy, official says
The European Commission is launching an investigation into the way some Internet companies monitor users' behaviors, with an eye on potentially regulating such practices in Europe, a spokeswoman said yesterday.

According to news reports, the EC is collecting information to determine whether services that use deep packet inspection are violating users' privacy.

The EC is particularly worried about advertising services that use deep packet inspection to gather data about users' likes and dislikes and then serve targeted advertising to Web users; Phorm is one such service. Deep packet inspection works even if the user has turned off their cookies to prevent this sort of behavioral tracking.

EC consumer affairs commissioner Meglena Kuneva says many end users may opt into agreements that allow deep packet inspection to gain access to popular sites or Internet services. A number of social networking sites, search engines, and ISPs have expressed interest in targeted advertising services, and some have already conducted tests with Phorm or other behavioral advertising services.

It isn't clear how the EC would regulate the operation of the services, but Kuneva hints that the EC might use a blacklist of terms it considers to be misleading.

"Trading your personal data in return for free, Web-based services is increasingly becoming the norm on which companies build their business models," said Helen Kearns, Kuneva's spokeswoman, in a statement. "The Commissioner wants to make sure that people are aware of this and that they aren't tricked into handing over more than they want to."

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