Verizon Calls for Industry Adoption of 'Best Practices' to Protect Consumer Privacy in Online Advertising

WASHINGTON - Online companies should commit to a list of industry "best practices" to protect consumers from potential problems associated with targeted Internet advertising -  also known as behavioral advertising - when consumers surf the Web, a senior Verizon executive told Congress today.

Testifying before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Tom Tauke, Verizon executive vice president of public affairs, policy and communications, called upon the online industry to secure the trust of consumers by adopting practices that fully protect their privacy.

"Everyone should embrace policies that put consumers in control of their online experience," Tauke said.

The Verizon executive said the industry should unite behind a number of best practices for behavioral advertising, including: (1) transparency - "conspicuous, clearly explained disclosure to consumers"; (2) meaningful consent - affirmative agreement from consumers before a company captures Internet usage data, when consumers surf the Web, for targeted or customized advertising; and (3) consumer control - ensuring that consumers can at any time act to stop any company from using their Internet usage information.

"From the perspective of consumers, it makes no difference what technology is used to do behavioral advertising, or if it is done by companies providing their browser, their search engine, their access, or any other online service," Tauke said.  "All online players should protect the privacy of online users."

He called for the establishment of a broad-based coalition of online publishers, search engines, Internet service providers, browser and application providers, and other online providers - along with representatives of consumer and privacy organizations - to adopt the industry best practices.

"Any technology that is used to track and collect consumer online behavior, when they surf the Web, for the purposes of targeted advertising - regardless of what company is doing the collecting - should only be used with the customer's knowledge and consent in accordance with the law, a company's specific privacy policies, and the privacy principles," Tauke said. 

Verizon neither relies on online advertising as a significant source of revenue nor uses packet inspection technology to target advertising to its customers, he told the committee.

The Verizon executive suggested the new guidelines should be enforceable.

"Should a company fail to comply with these principles, we believe the Federal Trade Commission has authority over abuses in the privacy area and can take appropriate measures against companies that intentionally violate applicable consumer protection laws," he said.  

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ), headquartered in New York, is a leader in delivering broadband and other wireline and wireless communication innovations to mass market, business, government and wholesale customers.  Verizon Wireless operates America's most reliable wireless network, serving nearly 69 million customers nationwide.  Verizon's Wireline operations include Verizon Business, which delivers innovative and seamless business solutions to customers around the world, and Verizon Telecom, which brings customers the benefits of converged communications, information and entertainment services over the nation's most advanced fiber-optic network.  A Dow 30 company, Verizon employs a diverse workforce of more than 228,600 and last year generated consolidated operating revenues of $93.5 billion.  For more information, visit www.verizon.com.