American ISPs already sharing data with outside ad firms

To Phorm or Not to Phorm


Multiple American ISPs are sharing customer data with outside firms that deal in so-called behavioral ad targeting, and according to one of these firms, the Silicon Valley-based NebuAd, roughly 10 per cent of all US web surfers are affected.

These ad companies, which also include the Sonora, California-based Front Porch, won't say which ISPs have adopted their services. But two internet service providers, the Georgia-based Knology and the Sprint-spin-off Embarq, admit to using such platforms on a test basis, and according to multiple users who've posted their stories to Broadband Reports, NebuAd is tracking data on WOW!, an ISP serving the Chicago area.

Using deep-packet inspection hardware - similar to technologies used by anti-virus vendors - NebuAd tracks the search and browsing activity of net surfers. But it says this data is never matched to personally identifiable information.

"With a one-way hash, we turn your IP address and other data into an anonymous profile, and we use that to see if you qualify for innocuous categories," NebuAd CEO Bob Dykes told us. "We can track someone looking for a luxury car, not just a car - someone searching not just for travel but travel to the south of France or Las Vegas." NebuAd then uses this information as a means of targeting ads. And naturally, the ISPs take a cut of its profits.

Dykes - once chief financial officer at Symantec - also says that ISP customers are clearly notified before NebuAd begins tracking their behavior.

"We require our ISPs to give notice to the user directly, and we also allow for an opt-out. Our contract [with ISPs] has a paragraph that says we require direct notification...It says that 'Advertising that you may see may be based on your online activity, and you can opt-out.'"

He is adamant that a paragraph posted to an ISP's website or buried in its terms of service does not qualify as direct notification. But Knology - which is testing NebuAd in "multiple cities" - notifies customers with no more than a paragraph posted to its website.

"We are engaged in a trial with NebuAd," said Tony Palmermo, Knology's vice present of marketing. "We go through all the technical processes needed to support the [US] Privacy Act - to uphold the spirit and the letter of it. There is an opt-out, and it's on our web site."

When asked if the ISP should do more to ensure customers are aware of the practice, Palermo said "We're still in that test mode. Long term, we don't know how that will play out."

NebuAd declined to comment on Knology. "I'm not going to talk about any particular ISPs or acknowledge who we work with," Dykes said. "But I will say that if we hear about an ISP that isn't following the contract, then we will look into what actions we can take to enforce the contract."

Ten per cent of all US net surfers

As reported by The Washington Post, NebuAd is tracking data from roughly 10 per cent of all US net surfers - though the company has already signed contracts that would broaden this scope.

"We cover about 10 per cent today," Dykes told us. "But our contract could reach more than that."

Front Porch offers ISPs a service similar to NebuAd's, but it reaches little more than 100,000 US net surfers. Other operations that appear to be working on similar services include Adzilla and Project Rialto, a "stealth company" created by Alcatel-Lucent, but these firms did not respond to our interview requests.

Yes, Front Porch and NebuAd are also doing something similar to Phorm - the behavioral advertising firm with controversial ties to three British ISPs: BT, Virgin Media, and Carphone Warehouse. And like Phorm, they're quick to play down the controversy.

Similar topics

Broader topics

Narrower topics


Other stories you might like

  • Lonestar plans to put datacenters in the Moon's lava tubes
    How? Founder tells The Register 'Robots… lots of robots'

    Imagine a future where racks of computer servers hum quietly in darkness below the surface of the Moon.

    Here is where some of the most important data is stored, to be left untouched for as long as can be. The idea sounds like something from science-fiction, but one startup that recently emerged from stealth is trying to turn it into a reality. Lonestar Data Holdings has a unique mission unlike any other cloud provider: to build datacenters on the Moon backing up the world's data.

    "It's inconceivable to me that we are keeping our most precious assets, our knowledge and our data, on Earth, where we're setting off bombs and burning things," Christopher Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, told The Register. "We need to put our assets in place off our planet, where we can keep it safe."

    Continue reading
  • Conti: Russian-backed rulers of Costa Rican hacktocracy?
    Also, Chinese IT admin jailed for deleting database, and the NSA promises no more backdoors

    In brief The notorious Russian-aligned Conti ransomware gang has upped the ante in its attack against Costa Rica, threatening to overthrow the government if it doesn't pay a $20 million ransom. 

    Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves said that the country is effectively at war with the gang, who in April infiltrated the government's computer systems, gaining a foothold in 27 agencies at various government levels. The US State Department has offered a $15 million reward leading to the capture of Conti's leaders, who it said have made more than $150 million from 1,000+ victims.

    Conti claimed this week that it has insiders in the Costa Rican government, the AP reported, warning that "We are determined to overthrow the government by means of a cyber attack, we have already shown you all the strength and power, you have introduced an emergency." 

    Continue reading
  • China-linked Twisted Panda caught spying on Russian defense R&D
    Because Beijing isn't above covert ops to accomplish its five-year goals

    Chinese cyberspies targeted two Russian defense institutes and possibly another research facility in Belarus, according to Check Point Research.

    The new campaign, dubbed Twisted Panda, is part of a larger, state-sponsored espionage operation that has been ongoing for several months, if not nearly a year, according to the security shop.

    In a technical analysis, the researchers detail the various malicious stages and payloads of the campaign that used sanctions-related phishing emails to attack Russian entities, which are part of the state-owned defense conglomerate Rostec Corporation.

    Continue reading
  • FTC signals crackdown on ed-tech harvesting kid's data
    Trade watchdog, and President, reminds that COPPA can ban ya

    The US Federal Trade Commission on Thursday said it intends to take action against educational technology companies that unlawfully collect data from children using online educational services.

    In a policy statement, the agency said, "Children should not have to needlessly hand over their data and forfeit their privacy in order to do their schoolwork or participate in remote learning, especially given the wide and increasing adoption of ed tech tools."

    The agency says it will scrutinize educational service providers to ensure that they are meeting their legal obligations under COPPA, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act.

    Continue reading
  • Mysterious firm seeks to buy majority stake in Arm China
    Chinese joint venture's ousted CEO tries to hang on - who will get control?

    The saga surrounding Arm's joint venture in China just took another intriguing turn: a mysterious firm named Lotcap Group claims it has signed a letter of intent to buy a 51 percent stake in Arm China from existing investors in the country.

    In a Chinese-language press release posted Wednesday, Lotcap said it has formed a subsidiary, Lotcap Fund, to buy a majority stake in the joint venture. However, reporting by one newspaper suggested that the investment firm still needs the approval of one significant investor to gain 51 percent control of Arm China.

    The development comes a couple of weeks after Arm China said that its former CEO, Allen Wu, was refusing once again to step down from his position, despite the company's board voting in late April to replace Wu with two co-chief executives. SoftBank Group, which owns 49 percent of the Chinese venture, has been trying to unentangle Arm China from Wu as the Japanese tech investment giant plans for an initial public offering of the British parent company.

    Continue reading
  • SmartNICs power the cloud, are enterprise datacenters next?
    High pricing, lack of software make smartNICs a tough sell, despite offload potential

    SmartNICs have the potential to accelerate enterprise workloads, but don't expect to see them bring hyperscale-class efficiency to most datacenters anytime soon, ZK Research's Zeus Kerravala told The Register.

    SmartNICs are widely deployed in cloud and hyperscale datacenters as a means to offload input/output (I/O) intensive network, security, and storage operations from the CPU, freeing it up to run revenue generating tenant workloads. Some more advanced chips even offload the hypervisor to further separate the infrastructure management layer from the rest of the server.

    Despite relative success in the cloud and a flurry of innovation from the still-limited vendor SmartNIC ecosystem, including Mellanox (Nvidia), Intel, Marvell, and Xilinx (AMD), Kerravala argues that the use cases for enterprise datacenters are unlikely to resemble those of the major hyperscalers, at least in the near term.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022