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Feds plan 'town hall' meetings on online ad tech

The move comes in response to privacy gripes from advocacy groups about the practices companies like Microsoft use to target ads to consumers.

An attack by consumer groups on the way that companies like Microsoft target advertisements to Internet users has attracted some notice from federal regulators.

Last November, the Center for Digital Democracy and U.S. Public Interest Research Group asked the Federal Trade Commission to review the growing use of business models built on, by their description, technologies that "aggressively track us wherever we go, creating data profiles to be used in ever-more sophisticated and personalized 'one-to-one' targeting schemes."

In a letter dated June 21 to the leaders of the two groups, FTC Consumer Protection Bureau Director Lydia Parnes said the agency would hold "at least one town hall meeting" this fall to explore the issue. (The FTC, she noted, has recently taken to holding public hearings about Internet and technology issues du jour.)

The groups who filed the complaint said it's a good first step, but they had hoped for more meaningful action from the federal regulators.

"While such 'town halls' are useful for the public, the so-called 'expert' agency designated to protect our privacy should be ready to recommend safeguards--not urge more investigation," CDD executive director Jeff Chester said in an e-mailed message to CNET

Chester said last year that the groups singled out Microsoft--rather than, say, Google or Yahoo--because its new advertising ventures appeared to be particularly "egregious" in their promises to share new information about user habits with advertisers and marketers. Microsoft was quick to dismiss the allegations.

Since then, Chester's group has also asked the FTC and European regulators to look into privacy concerns allegedly posed by Google's proposed $3.1 billion acquisition of ad-tech firm DoubleClick.