Thoughts, information and reflections about technology

Violate ISP customer’s privacy and rip off web publishers in one shot

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I just read an interesting thread at Webmasterworld about an ISP inserting their ads into web pages.

First of all, consider that the ability of web publishers to run their ads on their pages to generate revenue is what allows for so much free content on the Internet.

A major Internet Service Provider, Charter Communications, based out of St. Louis Mo. is implementing a plan where

  1. They will sniff deeply into the packets of web pages going to their clients (ie spy on what you are looking at)
  2. Insert thier ads into those pages, apparently overwriting the ads put on those pages by the publishers
  3. Make this an Opt-Out situation with a hokey cookie based solution. In other words, you have to jump through hoops as a customer in order not to have this ‘feature’

So, what is wrong with this?

  1. Customers will essentially have thier ISP snooping on everything they do. In addition, the third part partner of the ISP will have available every detail of your surfing habits.
  2. Publishers will be deprived of their income. Again, the mechanism that provides for the wealth of free content on the web is the ability of publishers to place ads on their pages.
  3. Web sites will essentially be defaced. This may be more of a problem than you would think. Suppose a site is required to follow Section 508 accessability standards. The publisher of the site carefully follows all requirements. Now you have some third party inserting code and content into the site that may not be 508 compliant. The publisher may find themselves facing a 508 based lawsuit for something totally beyond their control. What about banking sites. You can visit your non secure (http) pages at your bank and your ISP might be putting ads there that you believe are part of your bank’s site.
  4. The process is OPT-OUT. By default the majority of the ISP customers will probably have no idea about the implications of this ‘feature’. They will not bother to opt out.
  5. The ‘Opt-out’ process is cookie based. So, if you clear your cookies, then you have just opted back in. If you use a different browser, you have opted in. If you get a new computer, you have opted in.
  6. This is most likely a copyright violation. Similar schemes have happened before such as Gator and Microsoft’s infamous ‘Smart tags’. Gator settled out of court and Microsoft bowed to public outrage.

What can you do?

  • Publishers with adequate financial resources can look into starting a multi million dollar lawsuit against any company employing this type of technology. They might want to call the free 800 numbers of these companies and ask a whole lot of questions about the ‘feature’
  • Publishers might have to consider blocking visitors from ISPs employing this technology. If enough publishers did this, then there might be some backlash from the ISP’s customers against the ISP.
  • Publishers might want to look at the referrer and, if it is from one of these pirates, put a notice at the top of each page “NOTICE – Your ISP , Greedycommunications, is monitoring your web surfing and changing the content of this site. Call their tech support at 1-800-nnnn for more details”
  • Complain to your congrescritters.

Some links

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