ISPs Accused Of Hijacking Search Terms, Redirecting Browser Results To Marketer's Websites
from the yikes dept
It’s really quite stunning that ISPs and marketers haven’t yet realized that hijacking users’ browser functions and redirecting them for marketing purposes could get them into serious trouble. They just keep doing it. The latest involves “more than 10 ISPs” in the US who have been secretly hijacking search terms and redirecting users directly to marketers’ websites. That is, if you typed “apple” into a browser search box, the service could take you directly to Apple’s website, rather than to search results. In this case, the search query never even reaches your search engine of choice, being intercepted by the ISP, via a partner called Paxfire. Christian Kreibich and Nicholas Weaver, at Berkeley, discovered this and have been tracking it for a few months. Apparently, they found 165 search terms being used in this manner, including: “apple” and “dell” and “safeway” and “bloomingdales.”
From the article, it’s not clear if the companies such as those listed above are actually responsible. Instead, it looks like it may be part of an affiliate program, whereby a company signs up as an affiliate to such stores, then uses this kind of deal with an ISP to generate massive affiliate fees, some of which get kicked back to the ISP.
The report notes that Google became aware of this earlier this year and complained privately about it (why not publicly?). That resulted in the ISPs no longer intercepting Google traffic (which is the majority of search traffic), but it’s still pretty questionable. Either way, the excellent New Scientist report (linked above) also notes that a class action lawsuit has already been filed here, claiming that this violates the Wiretap Act.
What’s most amazing to me, however, is that anyone involved in schemes like this don’t think that it will eventually come out, and that they’ll (a) look terrible and (b) get sued.