Charter suspends ad program over privacy fears

NEW YORK Wed Jun 25, 2008 9:13am EDT

A woman types on a keyboard in this undated file photo. REUTERS/Catherine Benson

A woman types on a keyboard in this undated file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Catherine Benson

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Cable television operator Charter Communications is suspending a program that would offer advertisers ways to target pitches at people based on what they search for on the Internet.

"As we do with all new service launches or initiatives, we conducted focus groups well in advance, which told us that most broadband consumers would look upon this service favorably," Charter said on Wednesday.

"However, some of our customers have presented questions about this service as well as suggested improvements," it said. "We will continue to take a thoughtful, deliberate approach with the goal to ultimately structure an advertising service that enhances the Internet experience for our customers and addresses questions and concern they've raised."

The program came under fire from U.S. lawmakers including Rep Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the U.S. House of Representatives' subcommittee on telecommunications and the Internet.

"Given the serious privacy concerns raised by the sophisticated ad-serving technology Charter Communications planned to test market, I am pleased to hear that the company has decided to delay implementation of this program," Markey said in a statement.

He also urged other companies considering similar programs to hold off until privacy concerns can be addressed.

The decision to freeze the program will make it tough for cable companies try to make more money from advertising. Cable companies, which also run big Internet service operations, can amass plenty of data on their customers' habits.

That can help advertisers make sure their pitches are reaching the right people, but privacy advocates traditionally have opposed attempts by big Internet corporations to gather and share their customers' Web surfing habits.

(Reporting by Anupreeta Das in San Francisco and Robert MacMillan in New York; Editing by Erica Billingham)