Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Privacy The Internet Your Rights Online

Charter's Trials of NebuAd Halted 97

Posted by timothy
from the what-we-meant-was dept.
RalphTheWonderLlama writes "The trials of NebuAd by Charter Communications were halted after it gained the attention of Congressmen Ed Markey and Joe Barton. The online behavioral targeting system has been called "a 'man-in-the-middle attack' and various other unflattering names" but would certainly be an easy way for an ISP to cash in on client profiling." PaisteUser points out MSNBC's coverage as well, according to which the ad-insertion scheme was dropped because of "concerns raised by customers."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Charter's Trials of NebuAd Halted

Comments Filter:
  • Customers? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by oahazmatt (868057) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @02:57PM (#23938881) Journal

    PaisteUser points out MSNBC's coverage as well, according to which the ad-insertion scheme was dropped because of "concerns raised by customers."
    I'm inclined to believe it was "concerns raised by investors" that had more impact, however.
    • by jlarocco (851450)

      I'm inclined to believe it was "concerns raised by investors" that had more impact, however.

      I'm not sure what your point is.

      Why would the investors be concerned? Because it would drive away customers. Same fucking thing.

      • by ejecta (1167015)

        No, different thing.

        The investors would be fine if the customers were pissed, but the value of customers lost was less than the value of revenue gained by instream advertising.

        The investors concerns were that the value of revenue gained would be less than the pissed customers leaving.

        Investors don't care if customers get pissed and leave. They care if pissing the customers off and making them leave isn't profitable.

        • by jlarocco (851450)

          Well duh. That's what every company cares about, from the tiniest single person company to the massive corporations with hundreds of thousands of employees. At companies with investors, the investors help decide if something will piss off too many customers. What's the big deal?

          • by ejecta (1167015)

            Actually, I wouldn't say that's the case at all. I know of plenty of companies who are equally interested in social responsibility, their customers and making an ethical profit.

            So I guess the big deal is that concerns raised by investors was the thing that had the impact, not concern raised by customers.

            In the current age it seems corporations have more rights than people, whereas previously they didn't. If you poison your neighbour you're going to gaol, if a corporation does, there'll be hearings, enquirie

            • by jlarocco (851450)

              Actually, I wouldn't say that's the case at all. I know of plenty of companies who are equally interested in social responsibility, their customers and making an ethical profit.

              No you don't. You know plenty of companies that think they'll make more money if their customers believe they're socially responsible and ethical. You are proof that their plan is working.

              So I guess the big deal is that concerns raised by investors was the thing that had the impact, not concern raised by customers.

              But the inve

              • by ejecta (1167015)

                No you don't. You know plenty of companies that think they'll make more money if their customers believe they're socially responsible and ethical. You are proof that their plan is working.

                I think you need to take you tinfoil hat off. Yes, some companies are just out for a dollar - not all are. I run a company that isn't and I have sizeable share holdings in other companies that aren't. I'd say there is a 60/30/10 split out there of good/poor/evil.

                But the investors were only concerned because they thought customers would be worried about it and leave.

                If you are not an insider you won't always have advance knowledge of business moves such as this, leaving the only opportunity to be concerned after the event; leaving two types: those who speak up and those who don't.

                That's how the system works. If it weren't investors being concerned the program would have been stopped because concern was raised by the CEO, or upper management, or some marketting dweebs or somebody else inside the company.

                Generally the investors have gi

                • by jlarocco (851450)

                  I think you need to take you tinfoil hat off. Yes, some companies are just out for a dollar - not all are. I run a company that isn't and I have sizeable share holdings in other companies that aren't. I'd say there is a 60/30/10 split out there of good/poor/evil.

                  So are you saying trying to make money is "evil"? Or something Charter was doing is "evil"?

                  Not really. Most companies listen to their customers some even go so far as to encourage feedback.

                  But the point is that the customers aren't controlling

  • Delayed != Halted (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:01PM (#23938945)

    From the article:

    Charter has now agreed to delay any further rollout, though it won't abandon the plan entirely.

    Elsewhere, I have read predictions that up to 10% of Internet traffic was going to be commercially monitored by the end of the year. It might be good for everybody to let friends and family know and to start making privacy-enhancement software easy to use and ubiquitous.

    If people don't know about it, they're unlikely to raise a fuss and then we're all sunk.

    • I'll take a delay, and let the issued get aired, even if it is in Congress, who can't be trusted with those Internet Tubes.

      Seriously-- Charter has no right, and it would take expensive and long term litigation to get them to stop it. I hope they learn, and others learn by the example, and that the sum is that it slows it all down.

      Nonetheless, while I'd prefer that traffic payloads aren't analyzed, I fear they already are, in McLean Virginia.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by QuantumHobbit (976542)
        I would prefer they just went ahead with it and caused a huge PR meltdown. Now they'll simply wait until Congress isn't paying any attention and try it again. They'll keep at it until this becomes the norm for internet service and their customers stop complaining.
        • A PR meltdown would be juicy, but wouldn't stop them. An implementation delay is as good as it gets for now, in the absence of litigation. The data is just too valuable.... and there's little privacy legislation preventing its nefarious use.

          • You're right the information is too valuable. We can only hope enough representatives take notice and pass good privacy legislation, but I don't think anyone here is going to hold their breath for that.
            • None of us were kidding ourselves to think we had privacy anyway, but fighting the good fight is still worth it. I would prefer that the current legislature do something, but it's filled with cowards, and not champions of the people that voted them in.

        • When dealing with a company that is generally not responsive to customer feedback, the only thing that they're likely to pay much attention to is lost business. If subscribers cancel their accounts and tell them why they are canceling that may be noticed. Those who can't cut the cord with them completely (due to lack of competing options) might still be able to reduce the customer count by arranging for neighbors to share connections via WiFi etc.

          If they are selling advertising and there is a way to tell

      • by jlarocco (851450)

        Seriously-- Charter has no right,

        Nice try, but Charter DOES have the right. It's almost certainly in the terms of service that their customers agreed to when they signed up. If the customers didn't like the terms, they shouldn't have agreed to them.

        I hope they learn, and others learn by the example, and that the sum is that it slows it all down.

        If you want the companies to "learn", stop buying their services when you don't like the terms they put on it. No amount of lawsuits, legislation, and con

        • Nice try, but Charter DOES have the right. It's almost certainly in the terms of service that their customers agreed to
          Yeah sure, but still Charter's actions don't feel right for the customers. You just state facts, but people feel cheated anyway.
          • by jlarocco (851450)

            Yeah sure, but still Charter's actions don't feel right for the customers. You just state facts, but people feel cheated anyway.

            I'm sorry, don't let pesky facts get in your way.

            If people feel cheated, it's their own fault for agreeing to the terms they didn't really agree with.

            In any case, it's a 5 minute phone call to cancel your service, so why waste everybody's tax money by getting congress involved?

            • by Elldallan (901501)

              A subscriber to Wide Open West (WOW!) gave Topolski remote access to his machine, and Topolski then verified that WOW's NebuAd system was planting its own cookies when users visited Google and Yahoo, among other sites. After examining the TCP/IP packet data more closely, Topolski concluded that the NebuAd box was simply appending its cookies to the HTML code served up by Google and Yahoo.

              So lets look at this from the senders point of view, what the NebuAd system is doing is essentially modifying their page and inserting things they didn't intend to be there.
              Charter's customers might have signed away their rights but page owners most likely have not.

              This action is essentially a violation of the page owner's copyright and imagine what would happen to Charter if say Google sued Charter for copyright violations and demanded similar compensation per violation as the AA's do. That means e

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by postbigbang (761081)

          The TOS that people sign don't abrogate their right to privacy, especially with other individuals with whom they communicate who are not party to the TOS in any way. The Charter TOS may in fact be illegal. IANAL, but deep inspection is a radical and unexpected step!

          Charter, unlike say AT&T, is usually the sole provider in their own markets for cable, and so there is no competition; it's not a matter of hey-- let's go with TW, Cox, Comcast, etc. That's not the way cable plays, although an attempt to do t

          • by jlarocco (851450)

            Charter, unlike say AT&T, is usually the sole provider in their own markets for cable, and so there is no competition; it's not a matter of hey-- let's go with TW, Cox, Comcast, etc. That's not the way cable plays, although an attempt to do this years ago was tried.

            That's unfortunate, but I don't see why it matters. If you're willing to sign over your privacy for internet access, then your privacy isn't that important to you. You still voluntarily agreed to the TOS. It's not like you'll die withou

            • by quanticle (843097)

              That's unfortunate, but I don't see why it matters. If you're willing to sign over your privacy for internet access, then your privacy isn't that important to you.

              Or, y'know, some of us aren't interested in drawing false dichotomies between privacy and Internet access.

              Congress isn't the right place to settle your local bullshit that 99.9% of the country doesn't care about.

              Except for precedence. If Charter gets away with this kind of shit, then there's nothing stopping Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, et. al. from implementing the same system. We need a national precedent (in the form of a court ruling or legislation) set early on in this, and Congress is a perfectly valid place to pursue that.

              • by jlarocco (851450)

                Or, y'know, some of us aren't interested in drawing false dichotomies between privacy and Internet access.

                It's not a false dichotomy. If Charter only sells internet access that violates the user's privacy, your only options for buying internet access from them are "Buy it" or "Don't buy it". Internet access without privacy violation isn't a product Charter sells. You shouldn't be able to take them to court and force them to sell something any more than I should be able to take you to court and force y

                • You shouldn't be able to take them to court and force them to sell something any more than I should be able to take you to court and force you to sell your house.

                  Sorry, no. Charter Communications is a corporation; it's very existence is a privilege, not a right. In a sane system, people should be able to petition the government that created a corporation to make said corporation behave in a manner congruent with the public interest.

                  You and I are natural persons and have natural rights to live more or

                • by quanticle (843097)

                  By that logic, we shouldn't be regulating any industry that doesn't sell "necessities". Ford sells cars that blow up and roast their occupants alive? Oh well, don't buy Ford. Get cancer from the asbestos in your house? Should have thought of that when choosing your builder.

                  I'm sorry, but I'd rather live in the 21st century, not the 19th.

        • It's not that simple. Municipal and regional governments rarely let in secondary cable providers. The vast majority of ares with cable TV in the US are served by a single company.

          Love it or leave it is great for normal companies, in normal markets. It does not work on companies like Charter who enjoy local monopolies.

          That said, I did threaten to leave them if they rolled it out nationwide. Doubt they gave a crap. It'd hurt me more since I don't live close enough to the CO for DSL.
          • by jlarocco (851450)

            The vast majority of ares with cable TV in the US are served by a single company.

            I'm well aware. Here are two solutions to the problem that are better than involving Congress:

            • Contact your local government and complain loudly that they should grant the monopoly to a different company
            • Contact your local government and complain loudly that they shouldn't be granting monopolies at all

            Personally, I like the second option.

            Unless you live in a very large city, the chances are good that a couple dozen

  • Possible to Block? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by The Angry Mick (632931) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:03PM (#23938969) Homepage

    I've seen plenty of coverage on this, but no technical details on how it would actually be implemented beyond there being a mysterious "box" at the ISP. Is it, or will it be, possible to block or restrict this device from tampering with traffic? Or are we pretty much at the mercy of the providers here?

    • by oahazmatt (868057) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:07PM (#23939039) Journal
      In order to block the "feature", you had to install a cookie. For each browser. On every machine. Once the cookie was removed for whatever reason, back to the URL to download it again.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by QuantumHobbit (976542)
        I've heard that they would probably just ignore the cookie. That or redirect the cookie tagged traffic to the NSA saying "We found another tin-foil-hatter for you."

        Your only hope would be to encrypt your traffic, which would raise a few flags if they are really watching you that closely.
    • by cstdenis (1118589)

      Unless you encrypt, you are at their mercy.

      • The solution should not require playing games. Rather, it should involve kneecapping Charter's officers. Also, maybe whoever did the kneecapping could scream over and over, "you're just a pipe, you're just a pipe."
    • by baldsue (1306479) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:14PM (#23939159)
      I'm a charter customer and received a letter in the mail with instructions how to opt out. It was fairly easy but did require a few minutes to do. Woulda been much nicer had it been an opt-in option, instead.
      • I didn't get one of those, but maybe they weren't testing in my area. From previous comments it sounds like the opt-out method isn't very effective anyway.

      • Woulda been much nicer had it been an opt-in option, instead.

        I'm pretty sure that "opt-in" option wouldn't get exercised much, hence the opt-out requirement. Seriously, who chooses to be spied on?

      • Right, but if you read deeper, it sets a cookie on your browser to not display targeted ads. It still tracks your behavior, just doesn't show the ads. Charters privacy policy also states that they will turn over any and all information to law enforcement or a subpoena. Also, if you ever clear your cookies (as many, many people do, and tools like spy-bot do) you will have to remember to fill out that form again.
    • My understanding is that the ISP creates profiles of its users by recording the URLs they go to and breaking them down into keywords. Mostly they are interested in what you type into search engines. Those profiles get sent to NebuAd, who has relationships with ad houses. I don't know who specifically, but I'm guessing Doubleclick & the like.

      Those ads, which are already third-party and are not served by the domain you're visiting, are chosen based on the profile from the ISP rather than traditional me
    • by dr.badass (25287)

      It isn't a "would be" implemented. It's already done. Basically, there is no way to prevent your ISP from altering your traffic, because everything that comes over the wire passes through them. You have no way of telling whether the ads served on a website are the ads that that website sold or whether the ISP inserted them without controlling both ends of the communication.

      Dan Kaminsky developed a method to detect this kind of tampering , which at least can prevent ISPs from hiding the fact that they're d

  • by lazyDog86 (1191443) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:03PM (#23938989)

    I particularly like the little bit about how they will hold off on implementation while these important privacy concerns can be addressed.

    Who wants to bet that addressing this means waiting under a rock until no one's looking and then going forward with substantially the same nonsense?

    • Anyone remember TIA? That's basically what happened there, too.

    • I particularly like the little bit about how they will hold off on implementation while these important privacy concerns can be addressed.

      Who wants to bet that addressing this means waiting under a rock until no one's looking and then going forward with substantially the same nonsense?

      I would be more inclined to believe that to be read as "they will hold off until privacy concerns can be addressed" should be "they will hold off until laws have been enacted ensuring no immediate action(s) can be taken against Charter".

      --Toll_Free

    • Privacy will only prevent people like us from advertising to the families of cable company executives. We need 24/7 surveillance of all their activities, where their children go to school, what their wives buy on-line and in grocery stores. We can analyze that data on an open public website. Send out google vans to record their every movement, and inundate them with your advertising messages. Roll out billboard trucks to park in front of their houses.

      Fight fire with fire. Fight the RIAA laws with laws. Figh

    • by KnightMB (823876)

      I particularly like the little bit about how they will hold off on implementation while these important privacy concerns can be addressed.

      Who wants to bet that addressing this means waiting under a rock until no one's looking and then going forward with substantially the same nonsense?

      I agree, it will be a "wait until they forget" approach or "wait until we pay off enough people that no one can do anything regardless" instead.

      Either way, if it should someone make it out, then the best way to fight back is to attack the wallet and make all the data collected "useless" in a sense.

      This site uses a small script and the clients who visit with their web browser as a tool to visit junk, random, or non-existent sites so that they won't be able to collect any meaningful data. Get enough pe

  • by chiph (523845) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:07PM (#23939041)

    "The trials of NebuAd by Charter Communications were halted after it gained the attention of Congressmen Ed Markey and Joe Barton.
    So, hundreds (possibly thousands) of angry complaints by your customers get ignored, but as soon as someone from Washington calls, things start happening?

    What awesome customer service!
    Chip H.
    • by QuantumHobbit (976542) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:27PM (#23939361)
      The congressmen can actually do something. The customers are stuck in a high speed internet monopoly. My parents have Charter internet and it basically works when it feels like it. But their other options are dial-up or satellite. Charter doesn't care about the customers because it doesn't have to.
      • by flacco (324089)

        My parents have Charter internet and it basically works when it feels like it. But their other options are dial-up or satellite. Charter doesn't care about the customers because it doesn't have to.

        I have charter internet, and actually it's pretty fucking awesome.

        When I heard about Charter's disgusting NebuAds plan, I signed up for ATT's least expensive DSL plan - 768k for $20/mo, simultaneously with my Charter account. After a month I intend to choose one. My desire is to switch to ATT, first in order to

  • Paul Allen (Score:2, Interesting)

    by victorl19 (879236)
    I remember reading that Paul Allen's investment in Charter had already cost him billions. Anyone know if there is anything more to this?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by monxrtr (1105563)

      From a high price of $16 a share in January 2002 to closing at $1.12 today, a loss of 93%! Not too far away from being just another Worldcom or Enron. Clearly this is a company that knows what it's doing, and means business!

  • by algorithmagic (1194567) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:09PM (#23939071)
    Looks like NebuAd isn't just eavesdropping on user behavior, but actively creating fake traffic: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2008/06/23/topolski_takes_on_nebuad/ [theregister.co.uk] As if the Post Office were not only to read your mail, but to rewrite it for you on the sly. That's beyond Orwellian.
  • by mrsteveman1 (1010381) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:10PM (#23939095)

    If ISPs are going to keep their de facto monopoly status, they should be prevented from doing anything buy carry data, by legal means if necessary.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Gat0r30y (957941)
      The utility analogy is especially apt. This is like if the local water utility started to transmit waste in the water lines.
    • If ISPs are going to keep their de facto monopoly status, they should be prevented from doing anything buy carry data, by legal means if necessary.

      "I didn't try to download any child porn! Charter put it there!"

      Let Charter, DHS, and pissed off moms battle it out - hopefully they'd annihilate each other.

  • Gotta agree (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by Fizzl (209397)

    PaisteUser points out...
    God forbid if it was SabianUser I would have had to disagree. Good thing /. ers have good taste all around.

    Protip: Paiste means "shine" or "glow" in Finnish. (Or even one odd presens case of "to fry [ambiguous]")
    PS. Protip has nothing to do with Paiste/Sabian thing.
    PPS. I demand +mods for most convoluted post in ages.

  • Welcome my son, (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    To the machine.

  • by whoever57 (658626) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @03:32PM (#23939449) Journal
    From El Reg [theregister.co.uk]:

    Last week, we pointed out that NebuAd shares five high-ranking employees in common with notorious spyware outfit Claria Corp. (nee Gator Corp). And now we've learned that they share a sixth. NebuAd's Washington DC counsel, Reed Freeman, was Claria's chief privacy officer.
  • Is it time for the web to move to HTTPS for everything? Or will NebuAd launch MITM attacks against that too?
  • Doesn't this deserve the "suddenoutbreakofcommonsense" tag?

    BTW, who does the tags? Can one with mod points add tags or is it only cowboy editors named Neal?
  • Now all they need to do is stop breaking DNS with their SiteFinder ripoff. It was a bad idea when Verisign tried it, it's a bad idea today.
  • by Tired and Emotional (750842) on Wednesday June 25, 2008 @07:17PM (#23942619)
    What I need is an ISP that filters out egregious neolisms. Gack!
  • Not again!

    Certainly [slashdot.org] not that [slashdot.org] Edward [slashdot.org] Markey! [slashdot.org]

    Christopher Soghoian [dubfire.net] loves hearing the name Edward "barking rabid" Markey even more than I do. [google.com]

1 + 1 = 3, for large values of 1.

Working...