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NebuAd knocks at death's door

So long, American Phorm

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

NebuAd - aka the American Phorm - is just about dead.

In a court document filed Sunday, a lawyer for the infamous behavioral-ad targeter said the company will soon assign all its remaining assets to creditors and will "cease to exist as an ongoing concern." NebuAd now operates with a "skeleton staff," and soon even the skeleton will vanish.

Calls and emails to the company's former telephone numbers and email addresses went unanswered. The court filing goes on to say that NebuAd closed its office in Redwood City, California on or about September 25 of last year.

Less than six months earlier, NebuAd was tracking the habits of roughly 10 per cent of all American net surfers from inside their ISPs. Using deep packet inspection hardware, it would nab your browsing and search activity and shuttle it to various advertising networks, where it was used to target ads. If you searched for, say, French vacations, you'll soon see ads for French vacations.

NebuAd claimed these partners explicitly notified customers before turning the system on, but this wasn't always this case. NebuAd did provide a cookie-based opt-out and claimed to anonymize all user data with a one-way hash, but US law may require an opt-in.

By the middle of May, after weeks of unfavorable press coverage, Congress publicly questioned the legality of NebuAd's ISP-level ad targeting, and the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet accused NebuAd CEO Bob Dykes of "beating consumers." Lawmakers eventually asked all American ISPs to put their data-pimping plans on hold.

In August, NebuAd laid off an unspecified number of employees, telling The Reg it had made "temporary adjustments in the headcount." The company insisted that it still employed over 60 people and would move forward with its deep packet inspection technology, but court papers now reveal that in July and August, it "laid off substantially all of its officers and employees."

By the fall, Bob Dykes had declined to go down with the ship. And in November, fifteen angry netizens sued the company and several of its data-pimping ISP partners in a California federal court, alleging wiretapping, packet forgery, and browser hijacking.

As part of this ongoing case, lawyers for both parties tossed a letter at the court that details NebuAd's imminent death. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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