Charter Tries Convincing Users That Selling Your Clickstream Data Is Enhancing Your Online Experience

from the euphemism-much? dept

There's been plenty of controversy over ISPs using companies like Phorm and NebuAd to effectively sell your clickstream data to advertisers by inserting "more targeted" advertising into your regular surfing. If you haven't been following the controversy, these systems work by watching everything you surf online at the ISP level, and compiling a profile in order to serve ads on other pages. In other words, if you surf a website about golf, your ISP records this and then when you're later reading technology news, the ISP may inject an advertisement about golf. Beyond questions raised over the legality of such things, there are many questions raised concerning how such systems violate privacy. There have been calls to make sure that these types of solutions are opt-in only. In the meantime, ISPs that are adopting these solutions are trying to present them in the best possible light. Witness cable broadband provider Charter, who is pitching its use of NebuAd as a way to bring you its "enhanced online experience." Charter, which is setting this up as a opt-out solution, rather than an opt-in solution, sent an email to its subscribers, talking up all the wonderful "enhancements," brushing over the fact that it's basically exposing all of your surfing history to advertisers, and inserting its own ads into your experience. I'm not sure most users would actually consider that to be "enhanced."

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Bah who needs one, May 13th, 2008 @ 4:49pm

    The correct spelling is "euphemism"...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Mike (profile), May 13th, 2008 @ 5:08pm


    Whoops. Fixed. Not sure how that slipped through the ol' spellchecker.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Justin, May 13th, 2008 @ 5:17pm

    Calling Charter

    If you have Charter... call Charter and complain. I did. With that said... I couldn't find anyone that knew about this. Maybe they'll get a memo about it soon.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2008 @ 5:32pm

    Charter only has the foresight to do what gives them immediate kickbacks, and plans for nothing else. If they see a plan that will get them immediate revenue they go for it. They dont care to look at how it may affect customer opinion, and how that will affect their overall service. Generaly their decisions wind up upsetting their customers and they move on to more accomidating providers. This is just one more expample of how poorly Charter's management runs their company, and the poor decisions they continualy make will more than likely lead to thei ultimate demise. Unless they can begin to offer services that actualy help the customers more and more are going to go to alternate providers who actualy provide customer service, and just not a service for customers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Glurbie, May 13th, 2008 @ 5:43pm

    I never see ISP email

    I know I have an email account as part of my ISP service, but I've never thought tying my email to my service provider was a very good idea, so I've never used it. That said, does anyone know if Charter's opt-out notification email was to it's own ISP email accounts? I don't have Charter, but I do wonder if there are a bunch of people like me who would never get that message.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Rose M. Welch, May 13th, 2008 @ 5:55pm

    Same here...

    Over the years I have moved to different areas and upgraded and downgraded my services to different companies so I have never used an ISP e-mail address. I got my Yahoo! e-mail address when I was twelve or so (when AOL was the greatest thing since sliced bread, lol) and I've been using that ever since. Even my business accounts are pop3ed to it. It just makes sense.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    lazbo, May 13th, 2008 @ 6:08pm

    Charter's opt-out process...

    consists of you having to provide your home address and allow them to plant a cookie identifying you.

    The opt-out page on their web site says:

    "The third-party opt-out process requires you to permit a cookie to be downloaded onto your computer so that the ad network can read your opt-out status in your cookie folder. Therefore, if you delete your cookies or cache files, use a different computer, buy a new computer, or use a different web browser from the one you are using at this time, you will have to opt-out again. It is also important to remember that opting out does not mean that you will no longer receive Internet advertisements, it simply means you will no longer receive ads that are tailored to your Web preferences, usage patterns and commercial interests."

    Fun, huh?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    drkkgt, May 13th, 2008 @ 6:18pm

    not to mention

    it's opt out option is by storing a cookie on your system that if you erase you will need to re-opt out. thats a pretty flimsy opt out system

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    steveballmer, May 13th, 2008 @ 7:05pm

    They are right

    All online commerce helps everybody! That's why Microsoft wants to control the majority of it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2008 @ 7:15pm


    I put some ads on my site to earn ME money.
    If there getting replaced by Charter, and the visitors don't see my ads, but Charter's ads, who do I go after for lost revenue ?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2008 @ 8:06pm

    I guess in the future I won't be able to let anyone use my computer for fear of porn ads popping up on whatever site they go to.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    linlu, May 13th, 2008 @ 8:33pm

    Is it just me or is this a backdoor way to spy

    It seems to me that all this data would be more useful to someone other than the ISP (aka the NSA/FBI). Granted NSA/FBI already have a pipe into AT&T as well as Verizon, seems like this is yet another way to spy on us using inserted-ads as a cover. All done in plain site. It also seems to fit in with the requirement (is it law yet) for ISPs to keep track of the data that passes through them for 2 years. But instead of requiring a law to pass that, having the ISPs (non-govt entities) do this of their own 'volition' and then presenting NSLs or other subpoenas to gather all this data is much easier. Oh and oops did we provide to much data, oh well so sorry my bad.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Jake, May 13th, 2008 @ 8:33pm

    Re: Charter's opt-out process...

    Look on the bright side; at least they have an opt-out process, and what sounds like a relatively painless one; in fact, can anyone actually think of another way it could be done? (Full disclosure: I am not a web designer or programmer and have a very limited understanding of the back-end workings of the Internet, so apologies if I'm missing something obvious.)
    And to give Charter its due, I could be persuaded that if I must be subjected to banner ads, they might as well have a sporting chance of being useful ones.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    JB, May 13th, 2008 @ 8:38pm

    Charter Cookie?

    They are going to control the opt-out with a cookie? How does this work?

    I thought that cookies can only be read by the site that put it on your computer. So if I visit their opt-out site and fill out the form, that opt-out site will write a cookie to my computer. But how will that cookie be read and used? As I browse the Internet the sites that I visit are not going to be able to read that cookie.

    Through what mechanism will that cookie be read? (Or for that matter, how will any cookie associated with this tracking system be read)?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 13th, 2008 @ 9:44pm

    The real effect

    The real effect of perpetuating this form of advertising will be a silent war between large scale advertisers, like Google, and the ISPs. The large scale advertisers will put their efforts into obfuscating their ads so they are not replaced and the real losers will be people who wish to block all ads with software like Adblock Plus. The good side is that the Charter ads should be simple to block though since their only economic goal is to replace other ads, not protect their own.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    SteveD, May 14th, 2008 @ 1:06am

    Wheres the value for the customer?

    Privacy issues asside, no one has taken the time to explain to me why I should let a third party know my surfing habbits. Wheres the value for me?

    Groups like Phorm need to wake up to the fact that the more they try to capitalise on the publics attention, the more people will react by blocking out all advertising completely. There are alerady lots of anti-advert plugins for Firefox, and its not difficult to see a few anti-Phorm versions popping up soon.

    The sad thing is this sort of scheme could work well if it was sold to customers as a low-rate bugget ISP deal thats add-supported.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2008 @ 1:49am

    Sounds like the cookie is just there to show targeted/non-targeted ads. The collection of browsing habit is being logged regardless of opt-option.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Hoeppner, May 14th, 2008 @ 1:57am

    Dammit that's my ISP...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    Ferin, May 14th, 2008 @ 5:06am

    Hey Charter!

    You misspelled some bits in your PR.

    Where you wrote "Enhance my online experience" The correct spelling would be "Raping my privacy for the benefit of our bottom line"

    Just want to help enhance your communication experience.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    eMike, May 14th, 2008 @ 5:49am

    Does anyone know offhand how these services actually work? Do they work at a DNS level or do some quick reverse lookup based on IPs of packets that are going across charter's network?

    If they're keeping track of DNS hits, then using a service like opendns (which goes down an awful lot less than charter's dns servers) would break this functionality for them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    scatman, May 14th, 2008 @ 8:22am

    technological loop holes

    let the anti-ad arms race begin
    remember with technology, there's always a loop hole...someone will just build a browser that completly blocks (or scrambles beyond all recogintion) all ads. Then some hired hacker for a marketing firm will come up with a 'fix' for that, and back and forth it will go...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Dmitriy, May 14th, 2008 @ 9:49am

    company overlord

    Its also interesting to note that Charter Cable is owned by Comcast. Perhaps Comcast is experimenting with this idea without having the bad publicity reflect back on itself.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    Clueby4, May 14th, 2008 @ 9:52am

    They pull the same crap with cable TV

    They pull the same crap with cable TV ads, inserting local ads into over the originals.

    I've never understood how they were legally allowed to do that. But then again I still confused to how they get away with charging a subscription and having ads too? I suspect a lot of the reasons are similar to why they don't want to offer a la carte.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2008 @ 1:34pm

    Re: Re: Charter's opt-out process...

    The hardware should hit an IP blacklist. Done.
    If IPs change then rebuild the list every hour or day from the list of opted-out customers.
    The opt-out should be tied to your account.

    The ISP and the ad firm dont give a crap and the cookie system is easiest for the ad firm to implement so thats what they did so they can say they have a nominal opt-out system. It is a joke and they know it. They don't care.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2008 @ 1:35pm

    Re: They pull the same crap with cable TV

    Networks build-in slots for local ad spots. They run a national ad behind it (because blank screen = bad), but they usually find local ads to run over it. Actually, it's illegal NOT to have this for over-the-air stations, because they are required to provide local contribution (local news was born of this, as were local ads over the national feed).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2008 @ 6:07pm

    Just opt-out, let them put their cookie where no sun shines

    Opt-out, seriosly. People who actually pay for this junk service deserve this treatment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    oregonnerd, May 15th, 2008 @ 8:59am

    Re: Is it just me or is this a backdoor way to spy

    Cisco has been legally required to have back doors into routers and networks since before the internet. That's along the same lines as the keyword searches in audible data over the phone dating from the late sixties--that is, they didn't have the algorithms or the computing power to handle the data. Now they're getting both. The point is that the access points have been there for a long, long time. The Cisco backdoor thing was covered in the late 80s and early and late 90s as I recall.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous, Jun 21st, 2008 @ 3:37pm

    Bresnan NebuAd

    Bresnan Communications is also utilizing NebuAd as evident by their own website. www.BRESNAN.COM/CUSTOMIZE

    Also check out this discussion on dslreports;,20258823?hilite=

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Brian, Sep 17th, 2008 @ 8:56am

    I just went to Charter's site where you can opt-out of this stuff... for those who don't feel like digging for it.

    I filled out all their crap, and was told that they aren't doing the targeted advertising in my area yet... If they start the program here, they'll 'let me know' (but I, like others have said, don't check my ISP email) and when they 'let me know' I'll have to re-opt-out...

    Or if I change computers, or if I clear my cookies, or if I use a different browser, or if I update my browser, or if I upgrade my computer, I'll have to re-opt-out...

    So basically, what I'm getting at here, is that this opt-out stuff is completely bullshit. Yeah sure they'll let me opt-out, but if I have to do it practically every time I start a web browsing session, how is that at all useful? And if I don't check my ISP mail, how will I even know when they start tracking my information?


    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    H. Munster, May 1st, 2015 @ 11:24pm


    I encourage everyone to beginning aggressive adblocking and more important data mine blocking.
    With some routers (I use tomato) you can create your own blacklist. Keep in mind, blocking some sites like google analytics or googleads may lead to limited web use on some sites. I think we all need to take a stand against data mining. It is all leading up to something very sinister.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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