Kyle McSlarrow, president and CEO of the NCTA, testified today before the Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet, in Washington, D.C., regarding consumer privacy of communications networks.

"Our industry views the protection of our customers’ privacy as a fundamental part of our relationship with our customers and central to the success of our businesses. As new business models and new network technologies are developed, we will ensure that they are deployed in a manner that respects our customers’ privacy," McSlarrow said in the prepared statement, released by the NCTA.

The issue of subscriber privacy is already a hot topic in Europe, where Internet advertising company Phorm has become the subject of a European Commission legal inquiry for monitoring Web surfing behavior on PC addresses to send targeted advertisements to those addresses.

In the United States, the topic is getting hotter as the cable industry embarks on its most aggressive efforts at advanced advertising.

"Currently, none of our cable Internet Service Providers (ISPs) engages in behavioral advertising – that is, they do not use network-based technologies to collect behavioral data for the purpose of delivering targeted ads," said McSlarrow.

But he left the door open for targeted advertising, suggesting that industry stakeholders work cooperatively to establish self-regulatory principles. That privacy framework would include giving customers control, such as an opt-in or opt-out choice, and also providing transparency and notice.

McSlarrow specifically mentioned Canoe Ventures, the company working on advanced advertising for the cable industry.

"When and if Canoe Ventures seeks to use set-top box data to deliver behavioral ads, cable operators will do so in compliance with the privacy requirements applicable to them," he said.

Finally, McSlarrow defended broadband providers’ use of deep packet inspection (DPI). Privacy advocates fret that information gathered from DPI could be sold to third parties, be subpoenaed in lawsuits, or simply be vulnerable to accidental leaks and theft. But McSlarrow said DPI serves a number of pro-consumer purposes, such as detecting spam, viruses and phishing attacks.

DPI is also a useful tool for cable operators to run their businesses. "Packet inspection can be used for network diagnostics and capacity planning," he said.

– Linda Hardesty

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