ISPs laud their data pimping services but refuse to use them
The view from the Front Porch
Another American ISP has frozen its plans to embrace behavioral ad targeting.
Massillon Cable TV, an ISP serving roughly 30,000 people in the great state of Ohio, says it was preparing to roll out behavioral ad technology from Silicon Valley start-up Front Porch, but as Congress continues to scrutinize the privacy implications of such systems, Front Porch has asked the company to hold off.
"Front Porch wanted to make sure that there weren't any privacy issues," Massillon CEO Bob Gessner told us. "Everyone is treading lightly to make sure no one's privacy is damaged." Much like Phorm and NebuAd, Front Porch tracks the search and browsing activity of ISP users, tossing this data to various online advertising networks for ad targeting.
Charter eventually halted plans to officially deploy NebuAd, and when it did, Congressman Ed Markey, chair of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, urged other ISPs to freeze the deployment of similar services. This, at least in part, sparked Massillon's pull back.
But it's worth noting that Massillon Cable TV has posted a notice to its website alerting customers that Front Porch's ad system is already in use. "We utilize technology that allows advertising networks to deliver more relevant ads based on your recent searches and website visits," the notice reads. "This anonymous interest-based surveying will not cause you to see more ads. It will make the ads that you see on the websites you visit more relevant to your interests."
When we first called, Gessner said he was unaware of the notice. And he later called back, saying that the Front Porch ad system was never turned on. "We are not doing it yet," he said. "We were close to [launching the system] some months ago, before the Charter thing came up. That language was put there in anticipation of launching Front Porch advertising."
Front Porch CEO Zach Britton also tells us that the system never went live. But Massillon has long used a separate Front Porch messaging service that sends users DMCA take down notices when they're caught posting copyrighted material to the net.
Meanwhile, the same notice has turned up on the website of Missouri-based ISP NewWave. When we talked to NewWave VP of marketing Kyle Alcorn, he - like Massillon's Gessner - was unaware of the notice and said his ISP has yet to actually deploy Front Porch's service.
Both notices also offer users an opt-out, and they read like posts that alert users to an opt-out-only service. But Britton is adamant the system is always opt-in. Britton did tell us - as he's told us in the past - that other ISPs are using (or have used) the service. But he wouldn't say who.
Though Front Porch tracks your IP address as well as your search and browsing activity, Britton points out that it does not collect the contents of the page you visit. "In order to adhere to wiretapping laws, we only listen to one-side of the conversation," he says. In other words, the system knows what addresses you visit, but it doesn't see the actual data you retrieve. ®
With a post to Broadband Reports, a customer using the Midwestern ISP known only as WOW! says the company has told him that it will follow Charter in halting its use of NebuAd. Despite pressure from Congress, WOW! had previously said that it would continue using the technology.
Originally, this story said that Front Porch tracks user behavior via "deep packet inspection." But Front Porch has called to say that although it does look at individual packet headers, it technically does not practice deep packet inspection.
My MP forwarded a letter to me that he received from Jacqui Smith confirming that in her view no one was acting illegally. I wrote back to my MP suggesting that Ms Smith was being ingenuous as it seemed to me that HM gov were simply waiting for the results of the BT-Phorm trials to introduce a similar system. Since then, NuLabour have advertised plans to make ISPs give them data on our browsing/emailing even though it would duplicate what Echelon has been doing since the Cold War era. Just a thought, but if governments cannot protect us/themselves from hackers using wiretapping techniques, how can they protect us against the turrists under our beds?
What kind of mickey mouse legal advice is Front Porch getting? US federal wiretapping laws (18 usc 2511) are single party consent to monitor, and most states are too. I wonder why they really only monitor 1 side of the conversation? Im thinking its a tech issue.
And what do we have on this thing? A Cuisenart!?
"In order to adhere to wiretapping laws, we only listen to one-side of the conversation,"
Oh for chrissake do we NOT have these kinds of laws in the UK or something!? Or did that all disappear with RIPA?
"modify your page, to include a small banner on *every* page warning the user of the presence of this malware, and if the ISP provides the user with an 'opt out' link, make sure to include a hyperlick to that page, for the user to click nice and simple."
Yes that's a good idea. I might have a go at that :) Anyone got any ideas on how to detect if phorm is active on a particular browser? Is there a way to maybe use JS to see if phorm's cookies are installed or are details not known yet? Hmm, maybe I should volunteer to be part of their test program!
Anyone else coming to the protest on the 16th?