A U.S. Sentate committee is set to discuss privacy concerns relating to targeted ads with prominent Web site representatives from Facebook, Google [GOOG], and Microsoft [MSFT] on Wednesday. The discussions are meant to detail the extent to which targeted ads approach the threshold of violating privacy laws, specifically a 1986 wiretapping law established by the federal government that says at least one party within a communication must agree to be recorded. The reference to the law relates directly to online advertising company NebuAd, which is taking targeted advertising to the next level by working directly with Internet service providers to track user
The Silicon Valley startup is the latest focus of online privacy advocates who are outraged that the company itself along with ISPs would allow users to be tracked without having ever downloaded anything or clicked a link.
The primary means by which Adware companies track user behavior is by providing an attractive link that installs the adware programs on users computers, but by eliminating that step, not only do advertisers get quicker, more definite access to online habits, but they also eliminate any sort of consent in making it happen.
Even though most targeted ads use software that is undetected by the user, it is nonetheless clicked on and installed by the user, albeit unknowingly.
The senate committee will be discussing how such efforts and those by companies like NebuAd, who bypass such installations and work directly with ISPs, violate privacy laws.
The meetings could be the first of many that get the ball rolling on official legislature to define online privacy and establish regulations for such companies.
Currently, there are suggested guidelines by which advertising companies and Web sites who use them should operate, but because they are self-imposing, there is little regulation that actually takes place.