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NebuAd Takes Heat for Spying on Web Surfers

Kim Hart

NebuAd, a company that provides targeted advertising for Internet Service Providers, is altering the basic coding of Web sites to spy on consumers' Web habits to create detailed profiles for advertisers, according to an investigation led by Public Knowledge and Free Press, two Washington consumer interest groups.

The findings, which were released today, show that NebuAd "commandeers users' Web browsers" to load cookies and collect information in order to place ads from ISPs. Free Press calls the practice "Internet wiretapping."

NebuAd, based in Redwood City, Calif., is funded by Sierra Ventures and Menlo Ventures, and it is one of several companies developing behavioral targeting advertising systems. Like other firms such as Phorm, NebuAd has sought deals with ISPs to enable them to track customer's browsing habits to provide them with more relevant and hyper-targeted advertising.

The report found that consumers and the affected Web sites don't seem to be aware of the code alterations by NebuAds, violating "fundamental expectations of Internet privacy, security and standards-based interoperability."

NebuAd has deals with Charter Communications, Embarq, Broadstripe, CenturyTel, to name a few ISPs.

The report's release was probably timed to coincide with a Senate hearing on targeted online advertising that was supposed to be held today, but the hearing was postponed. This issue will likely come up when it takes place.

These days I kind of assume I am being tracked in some form or another while I surf the Web, regardless of whether or not I approve of the practice. That may be the case until some formal standards are developed around what is considered appropriate ways of "behavioral targeting."

By Kim Hart  |  June 18, 2008; 5:02 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

Users should be aware of the myriad of companies stealing their data and monetizing it without their express consent - be it the main search portals or the aforementioned. Sure, this is an abhorrent example of commercial interests violating key tenets of on-line consumer privacy.

However, there are many solutions out there (free) that annonymize and/or encrypt one's on-line user session. AnchorFree is one of those that offers a free privacy service (HotSpot Shield) that prevents your on-line session from being snooped. And, it doesn't require offering any user identifiable information.

Posted by: Mark Smith | June 18, 2008 7:54 PM

Isn't wiretapping without a warrant a federal felony? Every employee of NebuAd along with all their conspirators at the various ISPs belong in prison.

Posted by: Tom Truth | June 19, 2008 5:54 AM

Kiss advertisers good-bye and enjoy ad-free surfing. How? Don't use Internet Explorer. Use Firefox as your web browser, along with the Adblock Plus extension.

Posted by: Ken L | June 20, 2008 12:03 AM

Posted by: kmaaal | July 5, 2008 2:59 PM

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