Congressmen call for a halt to one CATV firm's Web tracking plans

Two founding members of the US Congressional Privacy Caucus have asked the US' fourth largest cable provider to hold off on testing a new "enhanced Internet service" that would collect private user data for targeted advertising.

On Friday, US Reps. Edward Markey (D - Mass.) and Joe Barton (R - Texas), senior members of the US House Energy and Commerce Committee, sent a letter to Charter Communications President Neil Smith requesting the cable company to put a temporary stop on plans for a new service that collects subscribers' Web surfing and search data for targeting ads, until they can learn more about it.

"We respectfully request that you do not move forward on Charter Communications' proposed venture...until we have an opportunity to discuss with you the issues raised by this proposed venture," the two Congressmen wrote.

Charter -- a company owned by Paul Allen, who previously co-founded Microsoft -- intends to test the new service in the four communities of Oxford, MA; Fort Worth, TX; San Luis Obispo, CA: and Newtown, CT.

Last week, customers in those areas received letters from Charter telling them about the new service, which will use the gathered information to deliver ads through ad company NebuAd that are oriented to "areas of interest" such as sports, fashion, and automobiles.

In its letter to subscribers, Charter reportedly described the new service as "an enhanced online experience that is more customized to your interests and activities." Charter is informing customers that the information collected "cannot be used by anyone to identify you," and that it is "completely anonymous."

Also, Charter is giving subscribers a chance to go to the company's Web site to "opt out" of the new service.

But in a statement, Markey contended that, "Simply providing a method for users to opt out of the program is not the same as asking users to affirmatively agree to participate in the program."

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