AT&T, Verizon dare Google to adopt opt-in tracking policy

Privacy is now officially the front lines in the battle between the telco ISPs and Google (and to a lesser extent other Internet companies), as AT&T and Verizon stood up at a Senate hearing and committed to opt-in-only tracking.

Privacy is now officially the front lines in the battle between the telco ISPs and Google (and to a lesser extent other Internet companies), as AT&T and Verizon stood up at a Senate hearing and committed to opt-in-only tracking.

AT&T made it very clear the move was all about Google, as the Washington Post reported:

"Google's practices exemplify the already-extensive use of online behavioral targeting," she said, citing for example its use of tracking cookies through DoubleClick, its display advertising arm. "We encourage all companies that engage in online behavioral advertising . . . likewise to adopt this affirmative advance consent paradigm."

Neither Google nor any other Internet company is exactly supportive of opt-in. Google merely said it is a member of the Network Advertising Initiative, which claims to support consumer privacy without requiring user consent to tracking. And the Interactive Advertising Bureau said:

If Congress required 'opt in' today, Congress would be back in tomorrow writing an Internet bailout bill. Every advertising platform and business model would be put at risk.

At the hearing Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) cited a Consumers Union study that showed consumers are very concerned about privacy but also woefully ignorant about their rights:

  • 61% are confident that what they do online is private and not shared without their permission;
  • 57% incorrectly believe that companies must identify themselves and indicate why they are collecting data and whether they intend to share it with other organizations;
  • 48% incorrectly believe their consent is required for companies to use the personal information they collect from online activities;
  • 43% incorrectly believe a court order is required to monitor activities online.