New Online Advertising Tactic Raises Privacy Concerns

June 16, 2008 10:27 AM
by Josh Katz
Internet service provider Charter Communications will track customers’ Web activity to send advertising targeted to their interests, a new marketing technique some call privacy invasion.

30-Second Summary

Charter, the fourth-largest ISP in the United States, unveiled a new plan to track the online activities of customers and share the information with NebuAd, a firm that customizes online advertising to the audience.

Charter told customers about the plan in a letter, calling it “an enhanced online experience.”

But Ari Schwartz of the Center for Democracy and Technology objects, saying, “So as a condition to get broadband access, they [ISPs] are creating profiles about you for advertising purposes. … That’s a completely different world than what we’ve been in before.”

Charter’s customers can choose to opt out of the new online snooping technology, but many critics argue that an opt-in system would be more appropriate, “where information isn’t collected until the user explicitly grants permission,” reports The New York Times.

Charter’s motivation is mainly financial: the company has been struggling recently against its competitors, and the Securities and Exchange Commission said Charter is $20 billion in debt. Ads that are more targeted—and therefore presumably more effective—can bring in greater revenue.

Meanwhile a similar debate over Internet privacy is currently taking place in Europe, where the ISP Phorm is also tracking sites that users view to mold customized advertising.

In the United States, Facebook and Google’s Gmail service also have stirred controversy, pursuing advertising tactics that some consider an infringement of privacy.

On June 18, a hearing by the Senate Subcommittee on Interstate Commerce, Trade and Tourism will probe such online advertising techniques.

Headline Link: ‘Privacy Versus Profit on the Internet’

Background: Congress examines Charter ad campaign and Internet privacy

Reactions: Charter responds to criticism

Opinion & Analysis: Is opting out of NebuAd’s ‘sniffer’ enough?

Related Topics: Phorm and Facebook

Reference: Guide to Internet privacy


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