WASHINGTON DC: US consumer groups have filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission alleging that internet search engines are violating privacy rules by gathering information for online marketers.

The Center for Digital Democracy and the US Public Interest Research Group have singled out Microsoft's AdCenter service, which targets customers with contextual advertising based on their web habits.

The groups claim Microsoft's tracking of online user habits goes too far.

Their complaint to the FTC alleges: "Microsoft has embarked on a wide-ranging data collection and targeting scheme that is deceptive and unfair to millions of users."

CDD executive director Jeff Chester says consumers do not realize they are being targeted and evaluated on one website based on what they have done on others.

He adds, dramatically: "More than privacy is at risk. The ad industry is ushering in a system to promote the brand-washing of Americans."

Chester urges the FTC to shut down new forms of online data collection until consumer safeguards are in place.

He says: "Consumers have the right to have the option to opt in [to data collection]. What is wrong with letting the consumers make decisions about how their data is used?"

Senior attorney for Microsoft: Mike Hintze ripostes: "Microsoft is committed to protecting consumers' privacy and we are very open with consumers about our privacy policies and practices across all of our online services and all of our advertising products."

Data sourced from AdAge.com; additional content by WARC staff