NebuAd Aims to Mollify Privacy Critics with Senate Testimony

After weeks of negative attention from privacy advocates and Congress and the subsequent retreat of several committed ISP partners, behavioral tracking firm NebuAd has made some changes to its system.

First, the company has added a new form of online consumer notice its Internet service provider clients can use to notify subscribers their Web activity is being tracked. Second, it will offer an opt-out mechanism that does not rely on cookies — thus exempting individuals from its system even when their cookies have been deleted. Finally, NebuAd has ended the practice of injecting its own data packets into cookies placed by Web sites not affiliated with it, a controversial technique it called “not essential.”

“The company will continue to use standard means of pixel tag distribution, such as that used by ad networks,” NebuAd said in a statement. However, it declined to describe exactly how the replacement technology would work.

The moves came the day before NebuAd CEO Bob Dykes is scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Dykes will appear as a witness during a hearing on the privacy implications of online advertising, alongside representatives from Microsoft, Google, Facebook and the Center for Democracy & Technology.

His testimony will focus on the company’s privacy protections, including policies not to collect personally identifiable information and to secure all subscriber data it does collect.

“The overarching message is that NebuAd operates in a legal, privacy-conscious and transparent manner and does not pose a threat to consumers or the industry at-large,” the company said in a statement to ClickZ News.

NebuAd said its new notice mechanism aims to help ISPs inform, and later remind, subscribers of NebuAd’s data tracking activities. It’s not clear this improves the transparency of NebuAd’s platform however, since the company already requires its ISP partners to provide such notice and offers those partners postal and e-mail options for delivering it.

Congress and privacy advocates have increased their scrutiny of NebuAd and similar technology providers. In May, when Charter Communications said it would work with the behavior tracking vendor, Democratic and Republican Congressmen raised concerns. When Charter backed out of the deal, those same Congressmen praised the move and urged other ISPs to postpone implementing the technology. CenturyTel was among those to follow the directive, suspending summer plans to flip the switch on NebuAd’s technology.

Additionally, at least six advocacy groups have banded together to share information, conduct legal analysis, and meet with officials on Capitol Hill in an effort to block NebuAd and its peers.

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