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Charter drops controversial customer tracking plan

Internet service provider announces it was indefinitely suspending the use of a controversial tool to track its customers' movement on the Web.

Internet service provider Charter Communications announced Tuesday that it was indefinitely suspending the use of a controversial tool to track its customers' movement on the Web.

Charter, the fourth-largest cable operator in the U.S., announced in May that it would use technology from a company called NebuAd to monitor some of its broadband customers' Internet habits to provide advertisers with information to target online ads to individual customers. Privacy advocates had likened the service to Internet wiretapping.

"Our customers are always our first priority," Charter said a statement. "As such, we are not moving forward with the pilots at this time. 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 concerns they've raised."

Charter's plans had also raised the attention of prominent members of Congress, including Massachusetts Democrat Edward J. Markey, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. Shortly after Charter's announcement, Markey released a statement praising the decision to suspend the program but questioning whether it violated the law:

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, which electronically profiled individual consumer Web usage. I urge other broadband companies considering similar user profiling programs to similarly hold off on implementation while these important privacy concerns can be addressed.

The move comes as targeted Web advertising efforts ramp up. Earlier Tuesday, Google announced a tool called Ad Planner that lets advertisers find Web sites whose visitors match various demographic attributes. The tool, which competes with market leaders ComScore and Nielsen Online, also can show in detail how many people visit a particular Web site.