October 7, 2005 5:08 PM PDT
America Online won't sell or rent members' home addresses anymore, but under changes to take effect in November, it will track member activity on AOL.com and Web searches to offer personalized content and targeted ads.
The Web search monitoring will allow AOL to offer customized search results based on a user's past searches. Members can opt out on a search-by-search basis--or entirely, AOL said on Friday.
Other portals track how their users navigate around the Web site, AOL spokesman Andrew Weinstein said. AOL said it will not use any information about where members go on the Web when they are off the AOL service.
Other search sites are offering services that keep track of user Web searches. Yahoo does it, MSN said it plans to do it and Google applied for a patent on technology related to the practice, AOL said.
Two privacy experts gave the AOL changes mixed reviews, praising the halt to selling address lists, but complaining about the tracking aspects.
Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said: "I'm glad they're not doing Gmail-like e-mail scanning and the fact that they're not renting their lists anymore is a positive. On the down side, customized searches are a real privacy problem."
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