By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 26, 2008; Page D02
Firms Pledge to Get Consent Before Targeting Ads to Consumers
AT&T and Verizon, two of the nation’s leading Internet service providers, pledged yesterday to refrain from tracking customer Web behavior unless they receive explicit permission to do so.
The announcement, made at a Senate committee hearing, represents a challenge to the rest of the Web world, where advertising is commonly delivered by companies that record a consumer’s visits across multiple Web sites. The practice, known as “behavioral targeting,” is largely invisible to customers and generally done without their consent.
The crux of the current dispute is whether consumers should have to “opt in” — or affirmatively consent — to be tracked or whether they should merely be given the opportunity to “opt out” of tracking if they don’t like the idea.
“What they should be saying is, ‘We are going to be collecting every move of your mouse on every Web site on a second-by-second basis.’ But that would scare too many people away,” said Jeff Chester, of the Center for Digital Democracy. “They’re going to craft some kind of proposal that claims to be informed consent but simply gives them political cover while they engage in full frontal behavioral targeting.”