Lawmakers fret about Charter Web tracking plan

WASHINGTON Fri May 16, 2008 4:31pm EDT

People use computers at an Internet cafe in Changzhi, north China's Shanxi province June 20, 2007. REUTERS/Stringer

People use computers at an Internet cafe in Changzhi, north China's Shanxi province June 20, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Stringer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two U.S. lawmakers raised privacy concerns on Friday about plans by cable company Charter Communications to track some subscribers' Internet visits and asked for a meeting before the program goes ahead.

"We respectfully request that you do not move forward on Charter Communications' proposed venture .... until we have an opportunity to discuss with you the issues raised by this proposed venture," Reps. Edward Markey and Joe Barton said in a letter to Charter Chief Executive Neil Smit.

Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, is the chairman of the House subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet. Barton, of Texas, is the ranking Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Charter recently sent some customers a letter outlining the pilot program, which is planned for June. In it, the company said the technique would provide "an enhanced online experience that is more customized to your interests and activities."

In the letter, Charter said the service is anonymous and "does not collect or use any information that identifies you or your family." Charter pledged to protect customers' privacy and offered an explanation of how they could opt out of the program.

But in a statement, Markey cast doubt on Charter's opt-out offer.

"Simply providing a method for users to opt out of the program is not the same has asking users to affirmatively agree to participate in the program," he said.

Charter, the cable television operator controlled by former Microsoft Corp co-founder Paul Allen, issued a statement on Friday saying it would take an "open approach" with Markey and Barton.

"Our goal is to bring an enhanced Internet experience to our customer while meeting all privacy protection requirements. We believe we have done that but are pleased to discuss this matter with (them)," Charter said.

(Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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