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Google and Microsoft bombard Brussels over ad tracking

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Google, Microsoft and other special interests are subjecting the European Commission to the most intense lobbying campaign it has ever faced, over regulation of how data is used to target advertising online, according to officials in Brussels.

Commissioner Meglena Kuneva announced in March that her department would investigate whether it should intervene to protect consumers from potential harm caused by digital advertising companies tracking them across the web.

In response, dozens of representatives of technology, advertising and publishing have now bombarded the Commission with familiar suggestions that self-regulation is the best system for internet industries.

"Of all the topics we've covered this has generated the biggest industry response," an offical close to Kuneva told The Register.

"We've never known anything like it," she added.

Brussels aims to produce a green paper based on its research early next year, although the current cohort of Commissioners are due for reappointment or replacement before the end of this year, which may delay the draft.

A similar lobbying frenzy is expected on Capitol Hill, where Congressman last week signalled they don't believe self-regulation will be adequate to protect consumers from tracking by online commercial interests. Laws are being considered to insist on explicit opt-in consent for some technologies and sensitive types of data, such as financial histories.

Kuneva's research is wrestling with similar issues. She and her team will visit Washington in early October to meet Obama's new FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz and consumer organisations to discuss their concerns.

"The aim of the trip in the behavioural targeting aspect is to discuss possible approaches to shared concerns," an official said.

"The US has adopted a self regulatory approach so far and we want to hear about that experience. Do they think it is sufficient? Obviously some in Congress think it is not."

Kuneva's consumer rights investigation is separate to ongoing legal action against the UK government by telecoms Commissioner Viviane Reding over its alleged failure to properly implement European laws. The claimed enforcement loophole around interception was highlighted last year when The Register revealed BT had twice secretly trialled behavioural targeting technology provided by Phorm.

The resulting outcry and public opposition to the deep packet inspection effectively shut down Phorm's UK ambitions for the forseeable future. Other forms of behavioural targeting, such as Google's website display ad tracking cookies, which opt every user in by default, are already deployed. ®

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