Congress ponders targeted cable ads
PHILADELPHIA - Cable operators will sit in the hot seat today as Congress reviews their plans to roll out targeted advertising amid fears that consumer privacy could be violated if the companies were to track and record viewing habits.
The House subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet will hold a hearing to look at new uses for the digital set-top boxes that control channels and perform other tasks on the TV screen. Cable companies plan to use them to collect data and target ads according to individual preferences.
"We have recently called on Congress and the Federal Trade Commission to investigate cable's new interactive targeted TV ad system on both antitrust and privacy grounds," said Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.
He is concerned about Canoe Ventures, a consortium formed by the nation's six largest cable companies to oversee the rollout of targeted and interactive ads nationally. Chester worries that Canoe will track what consumers do in their homes.
Cable's goal is to take the Internet's success with targeted ads and transfer that to the TV medium. Thus, a household that watches a lot of Nickelodeon eventually could be targeted for theme park promotions.
Canoe said it has no plans this year to use set-top box data for ads. Instead, its first targeted ads would use demographic data collected by outside companies.
The hearing will also focus on how network operators track consumers online and through wireless networks.