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AOL privacy policy now permits targeting

/ Source: The Associated Press

America Online Inc. is updating its privacy policy to outlaw a marketing tactic it has already stopped employing and to permit the targeting of ads and content based on what users do online.

AOL promises to no longer share names and home addresses with other companies for marketing, formalizing a policy put in place a year ago based on subscriber feedback, spokesman Andrew Weinstein said Wednesday.

But the new policy, which takes effect Thursday, lets AOL track what visitors do at its sites and tailor news, weather and ads based on such tracking. Many of AOL's rivals already serve targeted ads and content, but the company was restricted from doing so under a policy little changed since 1998.

"It brings us in line with our peers in the industry," Weinstein said.

Like its peers, AOL also is silent in its policy on how long it retains data. Critics worry that lengthy retention leaves the data available to law enforcement and hackers. Weinstein said there's no set limit because of varying legal, operational and business requirements, but he said navigational data are useful only in the short-term.

In an e-mail to AOL subscribers last month, the company noted that much has changed since 1998. Among other things, the Time Warner Inc. unit has placed greater emphasis on making content freely available at its ad-supported sites.

The old policy, Weinstein said, was written when AOL acted more as both access provider and information gatekeeper by maintaining a walled garden of content available only to its paid subscribers.