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Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications

Nortel is getting ready to enable your ISP to serve up advertising come-ons based on your surfing habits with its new "Personal Internet" network software, the company announced Tuesday.

Nortel's "Personal Internet products will help application, hosting and service providers, content publishers and enterprises to transparently distribute personalized content across the Internet, and to profit from a new wave of personalized Web services," the company cheerfully reports.

This new level of intrusion will be accomplished by tracking surfers at the network level, on the pretext of delivering more reliable and faster service. "Personal Internet solutions will give customers [e.g., ISPs] the power to uniquely identify individual Web users, deliver custom content and services from the fastest content location, and increase infrastructure efficiency."

This will not only enable an ISP or a host or a Web site operator to identify a particular individual and target ads based on their surfing habits and profile information, it will also enable them to determine what sort of device one is using at a given time, such as a computer or a mobile phone, and deliver content tailored to the gizmo as well.

The justifying overlay is a sort of Akamizing scheme which will distribute cached content whipped up from servers least clogged by user demand, with some manner of intelligent routing capability, euphemistically dubbed the Alteon Personal Content Cache and Alteon Content Distribution Manager.

Another element is the Shasta Personal Content Portal, described as "a platform-independent content delivery software engine that lets service providers control content access, steer subscribers, and deliver self-provisioned services on a per-subscriber basis." This will be integrated with the Shasta 5000 Broadband Service Node.

"Imagine a network that knows who you are, where you are, and can reach you whether you're on your mobile phone or at your desktop. Even better, imagine instead of finding your Web content, it finds you. Sounds personal. Exactly," the company's advert gushes.

'Sounds personal?' It sounds like a crime known as stalking to us, but the company's marketing screed cheerfully and strenuously insists that this is something the average surfer wants and needs.

Not everyone is in agreement. "ISPs and telcos should not be monitoring where their customers go to build up a profile for targeted advertising. They are carriers, like the post office, and have no businesses looking inside the envelopes to decide where to send more junk," anti-spam outfit Junkbusters' President, Jason Catlett, observed.

'Should not' is one thing. American law is another. Presently there is no legislative or regulatory impediment to the sleazy schemes and vile dreams of digital marketeers.

Responsibility rests with the surfer not to be victimized. Common-sense practices such as refusing cookies and ActiveX controls and restricting Java permissions, using free crypto schemes like PGP, using anonymous proxy servers, and registering at Web sites with fictitious personal data whenever possible, can go a long way towards keeping one safe from marketing abuse.

For those who prefer not to bother with all the tinkering and tweaking, the premium Freedom package from ZeroKnowledge Systems will do it all automatically, in exchange for $49.95 American. ®

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