Internet service providers called for industrywide guidelines to protect privacy online in testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee on Thursday. But they want to set the guidelines themselves.
"We ought to go forward with this self-regulatory approach," said Tom Tauke, executive vice president of Verizon Communications Inc.
Executives for Time Warner Cable Inc. and AT&T Inc., the biggest Internet service provider in the nation, also testified before the committee.
Among the proposed guidelines was a requirement that consumers give permission before their Web-browsing habits could be tracked for targeted advertising.
In June, Charter Communications Inc. halted plans to track customers' Internet use for a targeted advertisement campaign after Connecticut's top legal officer said the practice might be illegal.
Last month, members of the House wrote to 33 companies expressing concerns about such ads' potential effect on consumer privacy.
"We want to make sure our Internet service providers are protecting the privacy of consumers," said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.).
"There may well be" a need for legislation to ensure that, Dorgan said.
Gigi Sohn, president of the nonprofit group Public Knowledge, said legislation was needed because not all providers would adhere to the guidelines discussed at the hearing.
"Gaps in the law have allowed the privacy of some Internet users to fall between the cracks," Sohn told lawmakers.
The Verizon, AT&T and Time Warner Cable executives said their companies were not delivering ads based on consumers' Web-browsing habits.
Tauke told lawmakers that online companies and Internet service providers were privately negotiating a code of conduct.