ISPs tracking users for advertising purposes

— 4:38 PM on April 8, 2008

Although you may not know it, your ISP could be tracking your surfing habits and selling them to advertisers. That's what the Washington Post says it has learned by talking to some of the companies involved, who suggest that at least 100,000 and as many as 10% of Internet users in the United States are monitored using deep-packet inspection so they can be served better-targeted advertising.

Despite the purported prevalence of the process, little information is available about which Internet service providers (not to mention which users) are affected. The Washington Post names three companies—NebuAd, Phorm, and Front Porch—responsible for collecting data about users' interests. Those firms claim they're not violating customer privacy because they withhold "personally identifying details."

At the same time, one executive told the Post that ISPs involved in the practice are keeping quiet "for fear of customer revolt." The paper only mentions Embarq and Wide Open West as participating ISPs, and those companies merely refer to "preference advertising services" and collaboration with third-party advertising networks in their customer-service agreements.

According to the Post, even new Federal Trade Commission behavioral advertising regulations are loose enough to allow room for these methods. As such, the paper says privacy advocates intend to go straight to Congress with their concerns, namely that the monitoring is done largely without user consent and that "too little is known about whether such systems adequately protect personal information."

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