Blown To Bits

“Opting-In” to Being Tracked

Monday, August 18th, 2008 by Harry Lewis

NebuAd, as we discussed earlier, extracts information from the individual data packets reaching you to help target advertising to you that will be relevant to your interests. Depending on how you look at it, this deep packet inspection is either a frightening invasion of your privacy — many people are not happy to think that anyone is keeping track of what web sites they are visiting — or a service that will benefit everyone, Internet users by not showering them with ads they don’t want to see, and ISPs by helping them make more money from advertisers (some of which, they argue, would be used to improve their services).

The subject has come up in Congressional hearings, where Rep. Ed Markey is talking about a federal Internet privacy law. Part of Markey’s proposal would be a requirement that customers opt-in to such privacy-infringing practices. Not needed, argues Cable One, which has already deployed this technology on a trial basis. As reported by Multichannel News, the company explains,¬†‚ÄúCable One customers opted in to our monitoring of their Internet usage and content consistent with this third-party test when they agreed to our AUP.” That is, the fine print in one of those endless “I agree” documents you have to click on in order to get Internet service implied that the company was free to collect such tracking information, and customers should have nothing to complain about.

No doubt we all click on those forms too quickly. But if there are only one or two choices of Internet Service Provider in your neck of the woods — and almost every neck of the woods is exactly like that — what good would it do to fully understand the implications of the fine print? In the absence of competition, the communications companies have much freer rein. They are inviting federal regulation by such see-no-evil pretenses.

One Response to ““Opting-In” to Being Tracked”

  1. Blown to Bits » Blog Archive » ISPs Back Away From Packet Inspection Says:

    […] We’ve blogged before about the advantages to advertisers to know your search habits, and more generally, what sort of thing interests you, as those preferences are revealed by your Internet usage. NebuAd is a pioneer in “deep packet inspection,” opening the “envelopes” of data being sent to you to report back to the ISP what’s in them. The privacy issues surrounding this practice have come up for congressional scrutiny; see previous blog posts here and here. […]