Earlier this year, we wrote about the fact that many ISPs were making good money selling your clickstream data
to various companies for tracking purposes. Now there's a new advertising company that's come along to take advantage of this. The Associated Press has an article about NebuAd, a company that works with ISPs to use your clickstream data to better target advertisements to you
. These aren't tracking cookies, which can easily be blocked, and depend on which websites you go to. This is your ISP, who has access to where you're surfing, using that data to insert more targeted ads. To its credit, the company has tried to be quite careful about keeping data private and setting it up in a way that it believes is impossible to trace the data back to an individual user. However, we've all heard stories about "anonymous" datasets that turn out to not be
particularly anonymous. The company does also offer an "opt-out" solution, but how many people are even going to realize that their ISPs are a part of this program at all? It's also not entirely clear from the article where these ads are inserted, since most users spend little (if any) time on an ISPs own sites (however, some folks who have seen the ads suggest they appear... well... everywhere
). While it's an extreme idea, just imagine an ISP combining this idea with something like what Rogers was caught doing in Canada (adding content to Google's page
) and you could see how a greedy ISP might start putting its own, highly targeted, ads everywhere it wants, including places like Google's homepage. Hopefully, most ISPs recognize that this would lead to consumer outrage (and a lawsuit from Google), but would it be that much more complicated to be a bit more subtle and simply "replace" banner ads on certain sites without anyone really noticing? Yet another reason to encrypt all your traffic using a VPN or something to keep your ISP's prying eyes away from what you do.