“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,” the lawmakers wrote. “As Congress prepares to consider comprehensive privacy legislation, we request responses to the questions that follow to better understand your companies’ practices in this area.”
The lawmakers asked for information on the companies’ tracking and/or targeting of consumers on the Internet, which is enabled when users visit the firms’ web sites. Reps. Markey and Barton asked a range of questions, including:
What information about consumers does your company collect, either through your own website or through business relationships with third parties?
Do have business relationships with third parties, including analytics firms?
How does your company collect such information (e.g., cookies, beacons, Flash cookies, other surveillance technologies)?
Does your company serve different pages to visitors, based on information derived from tracking devices? If yes, please explain.
Does your company target individuals based on their health or financial status? Are there any user search or usage habits that your company will not use for targeting purposes or tracking? If yes, what are they?
If your company tracks or targets visitors, how does it notify visitors to your company’s site of this practice? If it does not provide notification, why not?
If a user does not want to be tracked or targeted upon visiting your site, how would the user effectuate this preference?
Reps. Markey and Barton sent letters to the 15 companies that the Wall Street Journal identified as reportedly having the most consumer-tracking technologies to track consumers visiting the companies’ websites.
Letters were sent to: 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; About.com
A representative letter can be found here: