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Legislators Seek Info on User-Tracking Software

A bipartisan group of legislators asked networks and some online companies for information on their use of user-tracking software.

In a letter to 33 of those networks before heading off to their August recess, the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Commerce Committees asked for information on "the extent to which they collect information about consumer's use of their broadband services or Web sites."

The issue has been heating up in Washington, D.C., driven by tests of ad-tracking software by networks and the Google-Yahoo online-advertising partnership.

No. 1 on the list of questions they want answered by next Friday is: "Has your company at any time tailored, or facilitated the tailoring of, Internet advertising based on consumers' Internet search, surfing, or other use?"

“New technologies, such as ‘deep packet inspection’ technologies, have the ability to track every single Web site a consumer visits while surfing the Web," Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement Friday. "This sweeping ability to collect, analyze and profile how individuals use their broadband connection raises clear privacy issues and I believe such activity should occur only with the express prior consent of individual citizens."

Among the networks cited was Comcast, which was cited by the Federal Communications Commission Friday for its use of DPI for what the FCC said was unreasonable network management.

But Comcast had a lot of company. The other networks that are getting letters: Bresnan Communications, Bright House Networks, Cable One, Cablevision Systems, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, Insight Communications, Knology, Mediacom Communications, RCN, Suddenlink Communications, Time Warner Cable, WideOpenWest, AT&T, CenturyTel, Citizen Communications, EarthLink, Qwest Communications International, TDS Telecom, Windstream Communications, Verizon Communications, United Online, PAETEC, XO Communications, Cbeyond, Level 3 Communications, Covad Communications, tw telecom, AOL, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo.