Plans by the nation’s six largest cable operators to target advertising to subscribers were spotlighted yesterday at a House Communications, Technology & Internet subcommittee hearing at which lawmakers examined the protection of consumer privacy on cable and other communications networks. The hearing was centered primarily on efforts by cable and phone companies to collect data on subscribers’ viewing and web browsing behavior for the purpose of transmitting customized ads to subscribers that respond to individual needs and tastes. House members have already announced plans to conduct a second hearing this summer that would focus on the privacy practices of major Internet portal sites such as Google, and lawmakers in both chambers of Congress—including House Communications, Technology and Internet Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-VA)—are expected to draft online privacy legislation that would rein in behavioral advertising practices. At yesterday’s hearing, Boucher took special interest in the Canoe venture that was formed last year by Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and other major cable firms to deliver targeted ads to video subscribers through their set-top boxes. Asserting that Canoe members and other cable companies are “very conscious of the privacy implications of what they do,” National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) President Kyle McSlarrow explained that the venture is developing two advertising products: one that is based on demographic data such as age and income, and the second of which would consist of an interactive system through which viewers would use their remote controls to “click” on-screen buttons that provide more information on cars and other products. As such, McSlarrow observed that the proposed interactive system provides a “built-in, opt-in” system that relies entirely on consumer consent, as he stressed further that the cable industry is already subject to privacy provisions contained in the Cable Act. Arguing, however, that “opt in, taken by itself, is meaningless,” Boucher maintained: “I personally concur completely that what is needed is not just a decision between opt-in and opt-out but also a framework for privacy protection.”