US consumer groups urge government to curb behavioural targeting

NEW YORK - Consumers' rights advocates are to recommend how the US government can better regulate behavioural targeting online as part of an attempt to curb the amount of information gathered about web users.

Later today, the Center for Digital Democracy along with Consumer Watchdog, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups are expected to release information that will further make the case against behaviourally targeted advertising, the US trade website BroadcastingCable.com reports.

Web giants including Google, Yahoo!, AOL and Microsoft already tailor some of the ads that are served to web users.

Meanwhile, behavioural targeting company Phorm has scaled back its plans to roll-out an ISP-based targeting service in the UK and is now concentrating its efforts elsewhere, after partners, such as BT, put their involvement with Phorm on hold after it became dogged by controversy.

The argument in favour of gathering information is that it allows users to view ads that are relevant to their interests, which is less irritating for consumers and less wasteful for advertisers.

However, consumer rights organisations say that it is an invasion of privacy, despite firms such as Phorm stating it does not track or hold any identifying information.

Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, told BBC News: "These companies want to know about your likes and dislikes, if you are Hispanic, do you vote, are you on a low income or a high income, where do you travel, what do you like to read.

"It's about a system that not only targets and influences the products you buy but is also a powerful and invisible system of digital persuasion designed to change attitudes and awareness."

The US House Commerce Committee is currently drafting legislation regarding consumer privacy and the BBC reports that the coalition is likely to ask for the US government to allow people to opt-in to allowing web companies to gather behavioural data, rather than opting out.

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