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Privacy & Data

AT&T, Verizon Back Opt-In Approach for Behavioral Advertising

Earlier this week, we set out our wish list for what we hoped to hear from witnesses during today’s Senate Commerce Committee hearing on behavioral advertising as this emerging online marketing practice comes under congressional scrutiny. We are pleased that the telecom companies testifying today, AT&T and Verizon, appear headed in the right direction. Both companies strongly embraced setting a high bar for engaging in behavioral advertising and challenged the rest of the industry to do the same. Dorothy Attwood, senior vice president of Public Policy and Chief Privacy Officer for AT&T, said her company was committing to a policy of "advance, affirmative consumer consent," noting that the phrase is "generically referred to as "opt-in." Meanwhile, Tom Tauke, Verizon’s executive vice president for Public Affairs, Policy and Communications, said that any kind of consumer protection practices must include "meaningful consent" from the consumer. Tauke went on to explain that "meaningful consent" requires transparency, affirmative choice and consumer control. Moreover, Attwood made clear that a "consumer’s failure to act will not result in any collection and use by default of the consumer’s information for online behavioral advertising." The telecom companies said that for online behavioral marketing to work in today’s Internet environment, consumer’s must first trust that they have control; that they can turn on and off the information collection spigot at any time, and do so with little effort. To that end, the both Verizon and AT&T called for a more robust self-regulatory atmosphere. Tauke said that all companies engaged in online behavioral advertising, regardless of technological platform, "should agree to participate in a credible, third-party certification process" to ensure they are living up to privacy promises made to consumers. AT&T’s Attwood said that to ensure consumers are really in control all companies involved in Internet advertising "will need to adhere to a consistent set of principles." The testimony today not only raised the bar for self-regulation, it lays out the groundwork for a serious discussion on what comprehensive privacy legislation should look like. Although the telecoms today pushed the envelope of the self-regulatory world, they each stopped short of advocating a legislative solution. We believe technology should enable consumers to take more control of their personal information and that we need legislation to ensure that personal information in this digital world is protected as well.