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CenturyTel joins Charter in data pimping freeze

Do as Congress says

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

Another American ISP has put the skids on its data pimping plans.

Last week, under pressure from Congressional big wigs, Charter Communications suspended plans to deploy a Phorm-like behavioral ad targeting service from NebuAd, and over the weekend, Louisiana-based CenturyTel did much the same.

"We have delayed implementation [of NebuAd] so that Congress has the time it needs to address the issues and policies associated with these services," CenturyTel spokeswoman Annmarie Sartor tells us.

Using deep packet inspection, NebuAd tracks the search and browsing activity of net surfers from inside an ISP's network. This data is then shuttled to various advertising networks, where it's used to target ads. If you start visiting car sites, for instance, you'll soon see ads for cars.

NebuAd says all user data is anonymized. And ISP customers can opt-out of the service. But US law may require that such a service be opt-in only.

In mid-May, Charter - the country's eighth largest ISP - told certain customers it would soon be launching NebuAd tests in their markets, and this sparked an open letter from Ed Markey, the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, and Joe Barton, a ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce.

Markey and Barton questioned whether NebuAd runs afoul of the US Communications Act, requesting a sit down with the Charter brain trust, and five weeks later, the ISP put the skids on its tests.

Markey responded by calling on other data pimpers - and would-be data pimpers - to follow suit. "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, which electronically profiled individual consumer web usage," he said. "I urge other broadband companies considering similar user profiling programs to similarly hold off on implementation while these important privacy concerns can be addressed."

This wasn't lost on CenturyTel, which completed a NebuAd test earlier this year. The company was preparing an official roll out, but that's now on hold. "Markey essentially requested that all ISPs delay their implementations, so we're doing that," says CenturyTel's Sartor.

As reported by Broadband Reports, CenturyTel - which provides net services in 22 US states - has started alerting customers to this change of plans via email. "CenturyTel is not currently using online behavioral advertising tools in any of its markets, and we are delaying our plans to move forward with the deployment of online behavioral advertising services - either through NebuAd or any other vendor - at this time," the emails say.

The company has also removed all data pimping language from its privacy policy.®

Bootnote

Robb Topolski, chief technology consultant for well-known watchdogs Free Press and Public Knowledge, suspects that the Midwestern ISP WOW! has also frozen its NebuAd trial. Topolski has remote access to a WOW!-served machine, and he tells us it looks an awful lot like the ISP is no longer dropping NebuAd's hodgepdge of tracking cookies. WOW! did not respond to our requests for comment.

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