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Netizens tell court NebuAd's not dead

Phormalike 'whack-a-mole'

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

NebuAd appears to be dead. And its lawyers have asked to withdraw from an ongoing class action suit against the Phorm-like behavioral ad targeter. But those suing the company have asked the court to deny this request on the grounds that NebuAd has a talent for resurrecting itself.

In November, fifteen American netizens sued NebuAd and several of its data-pimping ISP partners, alleging wiretapping, packet forgery, and browser hijacking.

Before a Congressional crackdown, NebuAd was tracking the habits of roughly 10 per cent of all American net surfers from inside several of the country's ISPs.

Using deep packet inspection hardware, the company 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'd soon see ads for French vacations.

NebuAd claimed its ISP 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.

After Congress asked ISPs to suspend such practices during its investigation, NebuAd lost what appeared to be its sole source of revenue, and as court papers recently showed, the company had all but ceased to exist. NebuAd lawyers filed motions to stay the case and withdraw as counsel, but the plaintiffs have called on federal Judge Thelton E. Henderson to deny these motions after The Register and others reported that some of the company's former staff have launched a new behavioral ad firm in the UK.

Insight Ready Limited was incorporated on March 25 by former NebuAd UK boss Paul Goad. The InsightReady.com domain name was originally registered to NebuAd. And NebuAd's former UK phone number is now used by Insight Ready staff.

"NebuAd is in the process of winding down its operations, having recently executed a general assignment for the benefit of creditors, but NebuAd is not really going anywhere," reads the court filing from the plaintiffs in the NebuAd case. "Rather, NebuAd is simply restarting with a new name, INSIGHTready. This scenario is all too familiar to anyone who has followed the online advertising industry generally and NebuAd specifically."

Court papers cite a story from The Reg pointing out that NebuAd shared at least five high-ranking employees with Gator Corporation, the company that famously changed its name to Claria in October 2003 in an apparent attempt to shake-off its reputation as a spyware distributor.

The plaintiffs point out that D. Reed Freeman of Kelley Drye - the law firm representing NebuAd - was the Chief Privacy Officer and Regulatory Affairs Counsel for Claria.

"For too long, NebuAd and its predecessor companies have been allowed to avoid prosecution for their alleged wrongdoings by changing names and the legal entities under which they operate," the plaintiffs say. "If the Court allows Counsel to withdraw and stays this suit, then NebuAd, now INSIGHTready, will continue the years-long 'whack-a-mole' defense that has served it so well up to this point." ®

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