Internet firms admit to tracking users' behavior for advertising

Responses to a congressional inquiry into targeted online advertising indicate that some companies were indeed tracking their users without first asking their consent.

In letters to the House Energy and Commerce Committee released Monday, several companies admitted to the practice. Altogether, some 33 companies were queried last August 1 about their position and actions surrounding targeted advertising.

Yahoo was the first to respond publicly, announcing last Friday that it would give its users an option to opt-out of targeted advertising across its properties.

Since then, details of other Internet firm's actions have become public. Of the big three, Google has admitted to launching a new technology that would allow it to track the behavior of its users across its affiliated sites in order to serve more relevant ads.

"Though it is not the focus of our business today, we also believe that behavioral advertising can be done in ways that are responsible and protective of consumer privacy and the security of consumers' information," it said in its letter.

Microsoft has admitted in the past that it was tracking its users, but as of Monday had not responded to the committee. Two ISPs, Knology and Cable One, admitted to using controversial technology from ad firm NebuAd, which looks at packets in an attempt to determine their content.

"Cable One does not intend to deploy commercially a technology that collects user data (even if anonymous) to deliver tailored advertising without taking several additional steps beyond what the law requires," the ISP said. Knology also stopped its use in July 2008, but did not specifically say whether or not it had permanently shelved the initiative.

About a dozen others denied that they had tracked the behavior of their users. Other than Microsoft, two other companies had failed to respond to the committee's inquiry as of Tuesday afternoon.

Copies of the responses from the companies can be found on the committee Web site.

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