Mediacom Puts Its Own Ads On Other Websites, Including Google & Apple

from the lawsuit-waiting-to-happen dept

A few years ago, there were stories of ISPs who wanted to use deep packet inspection technology to inject their own content, especially advertising, onto websistes. AT&T even insisted that customers would like it if AT&T did this. Public outcry and Congressional scrutiny seemed to lead many ISPs to shelve such plans… but you knew it was only a matter of time.

Broadband Reports is noting that Mediacom, who recently started using DNS redirection to feed ads (rather than 404 pages) to people who ended up on non-existent web pages (and who made its “opt-out” option not really work), has jumped into the fray and is injecting its own ads for its own services on all sorts of websites including those of Google and Apple — two companies known for caring an awful lot about what their website looks like in each and every pixel:

This seems like a lawsuit waiting to happen. If users choose to modify websites themselves, that’s one thing, but having your ISP jump into the stream and adding its own advertisements to websites seems to go way over the line of what’s appropriate. And, you have to wonder how effective it is. If I ever saw something like this, it would immediately make me look for alternative ISPs.

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Companies: apple, google, mediacom

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Comments on “Mediacom Puts Its Own Ads On Other Websites, Including Google & Apple”

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70 Comments
MalibuCusser says:

Re: Re:

Competition? I venture that many of Mediacom’s customers don’t have any inkling of such a concept, since (surprise, surprise) Mediacom is effectively the only game in town for many of it’s customers (including this one).

Sure, I can switch to Verizon or AT&T, or a local company that piggybacks on Verizon, but I will be switching to a MUCH slower speed (20mbps vs. 1.5mbps). What a choice!

Honestly, I don’t think most people will realize Mediacom is responsible for this. To be honest, I thought it was something new on iGoogle at first, and I don’t consider myself a computer slouch.

Gotta love that free market!

TehZomB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

You said it.

I also, in Maryland, have Mediacom as my only viable option. Verizon’s highest DSL tier would cut my speed from 12 to 7 mbps and jump my price by about $20.

I’ve dealt with Mediacom’s constant disconnects, packet loss, insane pings, and general instability since I’ve lived here. Nothing ever changes. The DOCSIS 3.0 upgrades just increased speed, not stability.

Can’t say I’ve seen these ads during my own browsing. I guess ABP just wins overall.

I used to have a VPN to encrypt my traffic, I am considering buying one again,

wgc says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I also, in Maryland, have Mediacom as my only viable option. Verizon’s highest DSL tier would cut my speed from 12 to 7 mbps and jump my price by about $20.

Have you verified your speed with one of the online speed testers? I think there’s one at dslreports. Back when I had Verizon DSL (near Boston), I found Verizon’s actual speed much more honest, to the point where it performed noticeably better than “faster” cable modem service. You might be surprised at which is actually faster.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What competition? Cable companies are allowed to be monopolies where I live (in AZ). When I lived at the outskirts of town Mediacom was (still is) the only internet and cable provider. You can always get crappy satellite internet of course but my Mediacom was fast. Pretty lame on MCs part but don’t assume people can just ditch them for something else. Even in Phoenix you have Cox cable for internet, Satellite, or very spotty ISDN (right in the middle of East Phoenix the fastest ISDN available is 256k the distance limitations are too great) from the phone company.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re:

>> except maybe for the people they manage to trick into not knowing the origin of the added content.

Look at it this way.

You create something online to share with others:

“I love this country.”

Then when your 1 million visitors come to read it, they read

“I hate this friggin country because it doesn’t have enough Doritos Low-Fat Nachos chips. All you useless readers can eat my ….”

Mat?as says:

Re: Re

Like me, there’s only one ISP that reaches my home, and they do the exact same thing, when you type an incorrect url you’re automatically redirected to their own website (DNS Hijacking). They also have their own (fixed) internet speed tester, what can i do? go back to dial up?, ??3G works even worst than dial up!!. There are only 2 telcos (Telephone companies) in Argentina, you don’t have many options.

Anonymous Coward says:

Seriously.. what the …… ok, yes, it’s wrong of them, no argument there. But anyone using a browser with no plugging to selectively block annoyances like Java, flash, etc deserves to have their pages messed with. Ignorance is not an excuse, remember? Plenty of addons that will let you block those third party adds on any website. Including techdirt.

Chosen Reject (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No. Just because someone doesn’t have or use adblock or similiar functionality, does not mean they deserve to have their pages messed with. People also have trash cans, but I’ll be damned if I start allowing the USPS to open my mail and insert ads along with my letters to/from grandma. When I request content from a website, I expect to get the content they sent. When they send it to me, they expect me to get what they sent. Neither party expects the delivery man to start opening stuff up and looking through it.

Sure, people should be aware that it might happen and look to protect themselves, but that doesn’t mean they deserve it.

A Different Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

And look at it from the websites’ perspective. The pages they’re serving are being tampered with. They’re not making a dime off those ads, but it detracts from the experience all the same.

It’s like if newsstands were slipping their own ads for USA Today into the copies of The New York Times…

F says:

Re: Re:

Sorry, no. The ads people put on their own pages are one thing, but when I go to Google’s frontpage (for example) I don’t expect to see ads, period. Nor ads for non-Apple stuff on Apple’s website. When I’m using someone else’s computer without AdBlock and the like I’m careful to avoid nasty stuff, but this it the ISP itself being nasty!

nategasser (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No, it’s not the user’s fault they’re not blocking ads. I want to browse the web seeing who’s advertising what where, and I want to support sites I value by visiting and maybe patronizing their sponsors.

Exactly how do you expect to get quality information for free if sites aren’t able to make money with advertising?

Ad blockers encourage *more* invasive, intrusive, and insidious forms of ads. Like, the subject of this story.

I say boycot ad blockers. They’re making internet ads worse.

nategasser (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Right. It’s the job of people who *do* understand this stuff, like us, to make sure companies don’t make this behavior commonplace.

I want, you know, medical people to be watching out for dangerous and harmful food additives or whatever that I don’t understand. It’s my duty to repay that vigilance in the tech sector where I can.

Anonymous Coward says:

Unfortunately most Mediacom customers do not have an alternative. I am a Mediacom customer in Iowa and have had to deal with their bad customer support, problems with my internet (packet loss) for 6 months and had to do the technicians work for them to help get things resolved.

All in all, if there was an alternative option around here I’d be all over it. The fact that there isn’t an alternative is what keeps companies like this in business.

B's Opinion Only (profile) says:

Who in the heck uses their ISP’s DNS servers??? (For exactly this reason.)

All you need is OpenDNS – A free, safe, non-evil alternative DNS server.

All you do is change the DNS server settings to the following, either in your router or on each computer:
208.67.222.222
208.67.220.220

As an added bonus, OpenDNS blocks phishing sites so it is a great option for Grandma and Grandpa’s computer too.

lavi d (profile) says:

Back to the Future

I can see where the thinking came from.

I was working in cable TV back in the ’80’s when the cable companies started putting tape cartridge racks in their head-ends and selling ad time which would override the networks’

It was ruled legal or they worked out some sort of deal because the networks were quite unhappy.

This is why you see crappy, low-budget ads from your local ambulance-chaser even during high-profile events like the Superbole.

abc gum says:

Re: illegal

“Last I check, intercepting and modifying someone’s data is illegal.”

Exactly. It is very similar to a man in the middle attack, which last I heard was illegal.

Remember Phorm? http://www.antiphorm.co.uk/
Let me guess, Boehner is in favor of this and that is why he is lashing out at the FCC proclaiming that there will be no “government take over of the internet”.

ltlw0lf (profile) says:

Re: illegal

Last I check, intercepting and modifying someone’s data is illegal.

It’s only legal if you or I, members of the citizen class, do it. For corporations, members of the ruling class, it is not only legal and accepted, but expected for corporations to keep control of their precious revenue streams (god forbid you get in the way of their revenue streams…that would be punishable of death.)

If you don’t believe this, take a look at the Sony Backdoor case, where if any one of us did what Sony did, we’d be in jail for 20 years to life…but they get a free pass and free advertising to boot.

jenningsthecat (profile) says:

There's a long standing precedent for this in TV land

This practice really sucks; unfortunately, it’s been around in the television world for a long time now, seemingly without any effective opposition.

I’m talking about TV networks and local stations putting their logos, and/or advertisements for other programs, right over top of a currently-airing program. Not only is this annoying and distracting, it often obscures vital parts of the main show’s content.

If TV networks can get away with it, why not ISP’s? Conversely, if the ISP’s are forced to abandon this practice, then the TV networks and stations should be treated to the same rules.

abc gum says:

Re: There's a long standing precedent for this in TV land

“If TV networks can get away with it, why not ISP’s?”

Yeah, that’s right – why not banks? They could inject ads during your ATM transactions, something like (Say, looks like you need some quick cash – check out our payday loan store just around the corner)

Or why not your doctor, lawyer, or SO ….. the sky is the limit when everything is for sale, the only problem is – one really should have a choice in the matter.

Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) (user link) says:

Re: Re: There's a long standing precedent for this in TV land

Those aren’t really comparable at all. In all the cases you list, the thing you refer to is both the source (in the direction of them to you) of the information/transaction and the means of transfer/transaction. Banks both store the account information and print out the receipts; doctors both attend you and write the invoices; etc. As such, they’re free to insert whatever they like – it’s their information to begin with (or, such as is the case of blogs, the author explicitly grants them permission to insert stuff in their usage contract).

ISPs, on the other hand, are the means of transaction but not the source (apart from the ISP’s own company web pages, of course); they transport the content but do not produce or own the content, hence they are NOT free to mess with it. While you could probably make the case that customers of the ISP explicitly grant the ISP the freedom to interfere in their side of the transactions in their contract, the web sites that publish the content do NOT give the ISP such rights to modify their content.

Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: There's a long standing precedent for this in TV land

One more thing: I’m fairly confident that in the case of TV the content producers explicitly grant the TV stations license to make said minor changes (e.g. inserting the station’s logo) via their publishing contract, and that without such explicit permission this would not be legal.

abc gum says:

Re: Re: Re:2 There's a long standing precedent for this in TV land

I agree, tv & the internet are not the same. Tv is a content distribution system and the internet is a communications platform. It would be difficult, but not impossible to discover what OTA broadcasts someone had been tuned to. There already are several methods being used to track the activities of individuals on the web. So far it is trivial to thwart these attempts but DPI, if allowed, would pose a larger problem.

Point is, no one wants some slimball all up in their business – know what I mean? These people want carte blanc to gather and analyze your everyday activities in order to make a buck. Do you think they give a crap about you?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: There's a long standing precedent for this in TV land

Your analogy should have been about phone conversations.

Can you imagine someone popping up on your phone conversation to pitch a new product because you mentioned soap or something?

LoL

That would be scary, is basically what the ISP is doing, they are listening to your communications and sending ads down the pipe.

Anonymous Coward says:

TOR
Privoxy(Powerfull website filter)
TorButton (Warning: By default it disables all scripts when using Firefox in TOR mode, if you want to watch HULU or something you need to disable the no-scripts option first and limit the access nodes to only U.S. nodes which is not that difficult to do is just annoying.)
Ad Block(Firefox)
OpenDNS or the GoogleDNS, I use both OpenDNS as primary and Google as secondary, because I figure they both can’t be down at the same time.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: :s

As a european I’m quite curious to why there are so many comments describing Mediacome as having monopoly?

What happens all too frequently in .us is an internet service provider is given a government-provided monopoly to a location’s citizens.

In the case of MediaOne, they’ve either been given exclusive access to an area, or the competition in that area offers a highly inferior experience.

Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) (user link) says:

Re: :s

15% of the people in the US have exactly one broadband ISP in their area. Another 75% have exactly two (generally cable + DSL). The remaining 10% is composed of people with no broadband provider or greater than two. The US has no line-sharing regulations, and as such all the infrastructure is a monopoly of the company that owns it (e.g. a DSL company and a cable company).

As laying down new cables is hugely expensive, the cables are essentially a natural monopoly, and as such it’s rare that a competitor will feel it can justify the expenditure to invade the turf of an existing carrier. Usually such upstarts are not new companies but cities that decide (by a vote of the people) to lay their own infrastructure to escape a predatory monopoly.

Pete (user link) says:

Law Suit Waiting to Happen

Copyright theft (by modifying a copyright protect work without authorisation), illegal interception (interfering with a private/confidential communication without authorisation), fraud (by representing their content as originating from Google/Apple/etc).

It is completely illegal, and very similar to what Phorm did to thousands of BT customers in the UK in 2006 (injecting Javascript into web pages).

An ISP is not a broadcaster, and does not licence content from the source. Therefore the television analogy does not apply.

An ISP is a communication service provider.

If you cannot trust your communications provider to respect the law or the privacy/security/integrity of your communications, you need to switch ISP as soon as you possibly can (because encryption only offers so much protection against someone you know is malicious threat).

Definately in the right department; lawsuit-waiting-to-happen dept.

My guess would be MediaCom are going to get stripped naked for this.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Possible update of matter based on comment posting

http://www.dslreports.com/forum/r25548898-ad-inject-to-stop.

>> data interception and modification.. bad, very bad.

>> After talking with Mediacom’s Legal dept ….

It then says how Mediacom is saying it was an internal communications error and they are working to correct the problem ASAP. A phone number is provided (for “Tom” at Mediacom) to complain if you notice this problem still ongoing.

Paul Keating (profile) says:

Old news

This is nothing new. Verizon started doing this whenever a Verizon ISP user entered a domain that did not exist (delivering PPC adverts instead of a 404 error). It lead to some funny results – such as Verizon adverts appearing if one entered an ATT typo domain name. Of course this did not stop Verizon from suing all of those domain owners who had Verizon typos and used them for the same purpose…..

Justin Olbrantz (Quantam) (user link) says:

Re: Old news

Again, not the same. Substituting a placeholder site for a domain that does not exist at all is very much different than interfering with the transmission from a site to its user. One is creating something where nothing existed before, one is messing with something created and owned by somebody else.

This is not to say that redirection of non-existent domains isn’t obnoxious from a technical standpoint (my previous job was coding internet applications).

Anonymous Coward says:

Add me to the list of MediaCom users that have no other option for high speed Internet access. I have been a MediaCom customer for almost five years and it is a constant battle with customer support to get anything fixed. As an example, when I moved in to my current house MediaCom was running a customer service guarantee that if an installer did not show up on time (or usually at all) you would get a $20 credit on your next bill. Out of a $150 bill I paid a grand total of $0 because of all the credits where the tech never showed up.

In responsive to the European commenter, the US generally has more rural areas than many parts of Europe. This leads to fair coverage in urban areas but it just doesn?t make sense for more than one ISP to service rural areas due to cost. From the Wikipedia article, MediaCom has a niche market of ?serv[ing] primarily smaller markets.? This means they go into areas that don?t have existing cable service and hold a de facto monopoly.

Until MediaCom started the DNS redirects I had no problems with their Internet service. Most of my problems are with the phone and traditional cable. If another competitor comes into my area I will likely jump ship if they have comparable Internet speeds. The only other cable provider that is even thinking of serving my area only has 2 Mbit down compared to my current 10 Mbit which would make the switch painful.

Alan says:

It's a good thing!

By tampering with communications en route, Mediacom voids their “safe harbor” status under the DMCA. 17 U.S.C. Sec. 512(a) says that safe harbor applies material is transmitted through the system or network without modification of its content.” Seems to me that Mediacom is modifying content in a meaningful way as it’s transmitted through their infrastructure, so they should lose any safe harbor protection because of that. See

http://www.copyright.gov/title17/92chap5.html#512

for details.

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