Google Responds to House Inquiry

Google is “deeply committed” to privacy and security of its users, but not to deep-packet inspection.

Read its responses to a recent House Subcommittee inquiry and you’ll soon realize the company didn’t exactly find them all pertinent to its business. While the questions asked by the House Energy and Commerce Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee deal with online ad practices and consumer data privacy, the main focus is “deep-packet inspection.” That’s the technology employed by firms including like NebuAd to target ads to customers of particular ISPs. Legislators have grown increasingly skeptical of the practice, leading trials to be stalled or halted all together.

Many answers to questions featured in Google’s letter to Subcommittee Members went like this: “We understand this question to be focused primarily on the implementation of deep-packet inspection advertising practices by a small number of U.S. ISPs in partnership with a privately-held online advertising company. Google does not deliver advertising based on deep-packet inspection.”

The “privately-held online advertising company” is NebuAd. In the UK, Phorm has forged relationships with ISPs like British Telecom (which, by the way, has stalled its trial of the ad targeting technology for longer than originally anticipated).

The bulk of the firms that received the inquiry letter are ISPs. At this point, though, it’s unclear whether they’ve all responded to the questions by the deadline, this past Friday. Yahoo also responded publicly.

One question regarding use of data gathered through one platform or service to target ads to another did result in an interesting response from Google:
Google does not correlate data regarding use across our products to offer advertising. For example, when we serve a contextual ad to a user of Gmail, our email service, that ad is based only on the text of the page that a user is viewing, and it is not based on any information from any other product such as Google Calendar or Google Search. If we were to correlate data regarding use across our products to offer advertising, we know that we would have to do so in a way that protects the privacy and security of our users, an endeavor to which we are deeply committed.

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