Angry Reaction Forces ISP To Drop Tracking Scheme

Dennis Faas's picture

A leading cable firm has abandoned plans to monitor its customers' Internet use and sell the results to advertisers.

Charter Communications, which is either the third or fourth biggest US cable company (depending on which stats you follow) announced the scheme in May. It planned to use the services of NebuAd, a California advertising firm which installs a physical device on an Internet provider's network.

This device takes extremely detailed information about each individual customer's web use and then sends relevant adverts directly to their computer as they use the Internet. It's possible to opt out of the scheme, though you then have to take care not to clear the relevant cookie from your computer else you'll automatically be put back into it. (Source:

Had the Charter deal gone ahead, it would have been the biggest provider to try out the NebuAd system; the firm planned to test the system in four of its markets. At the moment, the largest firm to sign up is WOW!, which ranks number 12 in the country.

News of the deal prompted fifteen separate privacy groups to complain to Congress, with some even likening the scheme to wiretapping. Several politicians, including Connecticut's Attorney General, then wrote to Charter urging them to abandon the deal. (Source:

Officially, the deal has only been put on hold, but there's no sign whether it will be resumed. A Charter statement said "Our customers are always our first priority. As such, we are not moving forward with the pilots at this time."

Congressman Edward Markey, who's in charge of the Senate Subcommittee that investigates Internet issues, was one of the politicians who complained. On hearing the announcement he said, "Given the serious privacy concerns raised by the sophisticated ad-serving technology Charter Communications planned to test market, I am pleased to hear that the company has decided to delay implementation of this program." (Source:

Both firms involved could conceivably make a good case that it benefits everyone if the adverts Internet users see are directly relevant and therefore of interest. But even if the scheme doesn't actually break privacy laws (which is debatable), most people would be very uncomfortable that a private company has access to so much personal information on their Internet habits.

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