Charter chucks its spyware-like ad plans

Perhaps in response to consumer uproar, and perhaps responding to Congress, Charter Communications has suspended plans to test ads generated by its users' Web browsing habits.

Charter Communications has reportedly shelved plans to test market NebuAd's services following some bad press late last week that exposed the company's employees as veterans of spyware company Claria Corp.

NebuAd has devised a way of collecting Internet usage data which then can generate user-targeted advertising. However, the company's patent-pending method drew the attention of privacy advocates, as it is clearly listed as a means of "monitoring and modifying" network traffic, where NebuAd packets are injected into the user's incoming data.

The patent application defines NebuAd's system as a "network device disposed in line between the computer and the network so that all data traffics are examined. The data packets exchanged between a computer and a website being visited are altered or modified in such a way that the head of the packets remains largely intact while the payloads of the packets are changed to suit the need of delivering transparently the targeted commercial information."

According to the company's privacy policy, information NebuAd would openly use includes: Web pages viewed and links clicked, search terms, the amount of time on sites, user response to ads, system settings (browser, connection speed), and ZIP code. This information would also be shared with third parties.

While users would be allowed to opt out of the surveillance, advocacy groups appealed to Congress last month, before Charter Communications could get tests under way. Members of the House Telecommunications Subcommittee then contacted Charter, calling upon the firm to halt the project due to the potential illegality of NebuAd's technology.

An e-mailed statement from the company said the pilot tests will not be moving forward due to "questions about this service" and improvements suggested by concerned customers, though a spokesperson was quoted in Online Media Daily as saying "It will happen when we're technologically ready."

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