AT&T: Internet Users Deserve Pro-Consumer Privacy Policies for Online Behavioral Advertising Services

Pledges its customers will be required to give permission before information is collected and used for such services

Washington, District of Columbia, September 25, 2008

It's time for all companies that track and collect data about consumer online search and Web browsing activity for the purpose of delivering behavioral advertising to step out of the cloud of invisibility to give consumers more control over whether and how their online information is collected and used, AT&T's Chief Privacy Officer Dorothy Attwood said today.

Testifying before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Attwood said, "While we have no immediate plans to offer online behavioral advertising we believe that a key dimension of any such program would be to give customers significant control over collection and use of their search and Web browsing data for online advertising purposes, by requiring their advance affirmative consent. This policy would mean that a consumer's failure to act will not result in any collection and use of that consumer's information for online behavioral advertising purposes by default."

"Over the past several months we have talked with consumers about what they want and expect from any company using their online information to provide behavioral advertising." Attwood said. "Based on that input, we pledge to uphold a few simple principles in the design of any online behavioral advertising program we may deliver in the future:

  • Our customers will be required to give their permission before we collect and use their information for online behavioral advertising.
  • Our customers will have clear information about the customer information we plan to collect and use for online behavioral advertising, and, and how long it will be retained.
  • Our customers will be notified before we begin any online behavioral advertising activity using their information.
  • Our customers can change their participation in our online behavioral advertising program, and they will be able to make that change easily.
  • Our customers will have their identity protected no matter what choice they make about participating in any online behavioral advertising program we may offer."

Attwood warned that the privacy issues related to the online collection and use of consumer information are not unique to Internet Service Providers (ISPs). "While this pledge represents AT&T's commitment, there are many other companies with access to information about online users, many of which collect large volumes of data every day for advertising purposes without the knowledge or affirmative consent of those users. Only when all companies that track and collect data for the purpose of delivering behavioral advertising — including search engines, advertising networks and ISPs — adopt similar commitments to transparency, customer control and privacy will Internet users have more confidence in the privacy of their online experience. We urge all entities engaged in this space to join us in supporting these pro-consumer policies," she said.

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