The Privacy BlogPrivacy, Security, Cryptography, and Anonymity

May/08

16

ISP admits to collecting web surfing data.

I encourage everyone to read this article by Declan McCullagh: Q&A with Charter VP: Your Web activity, logged and loadedThe gist is that Charter Communications, the third largest cable operator in the US, is testing a system to capture the URLs you visit when you browse the web, then provide that information to advertising networks through a third party company, NebuAd. They claim this information is “anonymized”, but I can’t really see how that is possible. If a company wants to target car ads at people who visit many car websites, then the advertiser must know that you have done so when you are shown the ad. Since they have your IP address, they know who you are (or at least have personally identifiable information).While the advertiser may not get the actual web logs, this is a huge amount of information, and I am sure more could be gathered by a clever and systematic set of advertising targets. For each narrow target, capture information on which users match the target criteria when there is an opportunity to show them an ad.The obvious solution is to prevent the ISP from gathering this information in the first place. Any kind of encrypted tunnel, like those provided by the various Anonymizer solutions, will prevent this kind of commercial espionage on their users.

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2 comments

  • Tony Blair · May 19, 2008 at 7:08 am

    A company called Phorm is trying to do the same thing in the UK see(http://www.badphorm.co.uk/page.php?2) for more about it.

    The legality of the system is currently under question, however three of the biggest ISP’s (including BT) have currently signed up. What’s more, it’s come to light that BT also conducted secret test trials of the system without user knowledge, although strangely the UK government appears to be turning a blind eye to this.

  • PrivacyMom · July 3, 2008 at 2:15 am

    Yikes! The implications of online tracking are really scary. Last year when I was looking for a new job, I was searching on my work laptop for a job. One day I opened up yahoo (NOT signed in) and the whole page was targeted to me and my job search. All I could think about was…what if my boss walks up and knows how online advertising works and puts 2 and 2 together…Sure that’s a bit dramatic, but imagine I had been doing health searches… My concern prompted this website – I would love your feedback from a privacy perspective!!! http://www.listenstoyou.com (Invitation code: privacy)

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