Reps Seek Info From Comcast, MSNBC, Others On Web Tracking, Targeting

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Comcast.net, MSNBC.com, and Verizonwireless.com are among the company Web sites targeted by a pair of powerful congressmen in the wake of reports of their use of consumer-tracking devices.

Citing a Wall Street Journal investigation, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.), co-chairs of the House Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, sent letters to those and a dozen other sites.

"We are troubled by the findings in this report, which suggest that the price of consumers' unfettered use of the Internet increasingly is surrender of their personal information, preferences and intimate details to websites, data monitoring companies, marketers and other information gathering firms that seek to track them online and develop digital dossiers for a range of purposes, including marketing," they said in announcing the inquiry.

Among the questions they want answered are what information is collected, how it is collected (cookies, "surveillance"), what third parties may be involved, what information they provided users and what options they have not to be tracked or targeted.

The letters come as Congress is contemplating privacy legislation giving surfers more and clearer information about tracking and targeting, and more options for controlling whether and how their information is used.

Legislators, notably Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), who was an early champion of privacy legislation and is working on a bill, has acknowledged the value of targeted advertising in pinpointing ads of interest, and the general value of advertising in keeping much net content free. But he is also concerned about protecting sensitive personal information, and giving surfers clear notice about, and more control over, the collection and use of non-sensitive info.

Sites getting letters were Dictionary.com; MSN.com; Comcast.net; AOL.com; Merriam-Webster.com; Photobucket.com; Answers.com; Careerbuilder.com; MSNBC.com; Live.com; Myspace.com; Yahoo.com; Verizonwireless.com; Yp.com; and About.com.

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