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Charter: Selling Browsing Data Is Like Offering Faster Speeds
Does insulting customer intelligence cost extra?
by Karl Bode 12:58PM Friday May 16 2008
Earlier this week I noted that Charter has started selling user browsing activity to NebuAD, a behavioral advertising firm I profiled in February. NebuAD takes that data and delivers (through traditional ad networks) ads tailored to your browsing habits. While the opt-out system still has major issues, Charter's doing some things right (and some things very wrong). Unlike Embarq or Wide Open West, Charter actually e-mailed customers to inform them of the new system instead of burying it in their terms of service. Also unlike other companies, they're apparently willing to talk about the system.

CNET's Declan McCullagh e-mails me to note he's conducted an interview with Charter's Ted Schremp, senior vice president of product management and strategy. Interestingly, while NebuAD CEO Bob Dykes told me the NebuAD system uses deep packet inspection technology, Schremp tells CNET it does not. When asked why consumers don't see lower prices if their browsing history is generating additional revenue, Schremp had this to say:
(Customers) appreciate the notion that ads that are being served are attuned to their interests or potential interests. We view it the same way as offering faster Internet speeds. This is no different. It's about taking the latest technology and applying it as a way to be useful to our customers.
Just so we're clear: Charter is taking your browsing activity data and selling it to a third party for profit. They're then suggesting that doing so is an "enhanced online experience" (the phrase used in their e-mail to customers) on par with offering you faster connection speeds. Does insulting customer intelligence cost extra?

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reply to Anonymous

Re: Opt in

They will put something in the non-negotiable "Terms of service" saying that customers agree to it by using the service. Then they will have so-called "consent" to satisfy any law. Only the words change; the reality remains the same.

The only way an ISP can get away with this is by lack of competition in the local market - no other comparable broadband, or at most one other choice in the area (cable and telco).

Whenever someone says it should be left for the free market to resolve an issue to do with internet in USA, remember that when customers have to accept something they hate in order to get broadband internet, the market has already failed. The root of the problem is that the service providers own the "last mile" connections to the customers. Whenever such a "natural monopoly" is allowed to be in private hands, it must be heavily regulated for protection of the public.