Ready – Fire – Aim: NebuAd and Charter Shellacked — Right Idea, Wrong Targets
Ready – Fire – Aim: NebuAd and Charter Shellacked — Right Idea, Wrong Targets
Ready – Fire – Aim: NebuAd and Charter Shellacked — Right Idea, Wrong Targets

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    The carefully evasive behavior of NebuAd CEO Robert Dykes bugs me. He tends to remind me of that one uncle at the reunion who acts too strangely to be allowed alone with the children. That said, if the ISPs will sell everything we do online to any creep on the street, why can't Bob Dykes be that creep?

    It was Charter Communication's suggestion that it might sell the data to Dykes that creeped out enough people to get Congressional attention. Fortunately, Charter “pressed 'Pause'” when asked to.

    While NebuAd and Charter became the public piñatas, the ISPs that betrayed (and many probably are still betraying) their customers have escaped scrutiny so far.

    Following two congressional hearings, where Uncle Bob bore the brunt of a verbal beating, his ISP friends declined invitations and were no where to be seen. While Charter was just talking about it, many ISPs already activated NebuAd's wiretapping box. The last time I checked, evidence indicated that NebuAd's box is still snooping on the networks of Broadstripe, Decaturnet Internet Services, Eastern Oregon Net, High Speed Networks -E50 (HSNe50), Knology, Metro Provider, OnlyInternet.Net, Progressive Internet Services (Jayco.Net), RTC on Line (Rochester Telephone Company, Indiana), SOFTCOM Internet, and 20/20 Communications ( At about the same time that we learned of Charter's decision not to use NebuAd, we also learned that Bresnan, Embarq, CenturyTel, and WOW! rather quietly disconnected their already active NebuAd's spying programs.

    The comedian “Gallagher” taught me, “Everywhere you leak, the world hangs a bucket.” We can't be mad at the world for being the world and hanging a bucket, but we can focus on fixing the leaks. It seems silly to have to remind ISPs of their job — they ought to forward their packets toward their destinations, without “deeply” inspecting or intercepting them. They should not leak.

    Eccentric uncle metaphors aside, NebuAd was just opportunistically hanging that bucket. It's the ISPs that were beating their own customers. In many of their markets, they might be the only broadband choice. Customers must endure anything if they have no where else to go.

    Hopefully, recent questions into Embarq's allegedly unannounced trial might provide a chance to refocus the Klieg lights onto the problem. Investigating reports that Embarq users were monitored without notification, House Chairman of the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet, Edward J. Markey, said “Embarq's apparent use of this technology without directly notifying affected customers that their activity was being tracked, collected, and analyzed raises serious privacy red flags.”

    Embarq apparently wasn't the only ISP to skip out on notifying its users. In Tennessee, Deb Mayes of Knoxville reports that she learned from reports on that her ISP, Knology, was spying on her web activity. Furious, Deb wrote an enormous email explaining and objecting to the invasive nature of NebuAd. In reply, she was directed to NebuAd's Opt-Out page — which Deb already knew would not stop Knology from sending the information to NebuAd. Mayes does not trust NebuAd and does not want her information being sent to them. “Let's not kid a kidder,” she says, “I work on databases — the stuff has the half-life of uranium!” Knology is an ISP serving states in the southeast, midwest, and the Dakotas.

    Here is hoping that the public's eyes keep moving towards seeing that the real root cause of this problem is not NebuAd, but the broadband ISPs who choose to sell out their customers in lieu of serving them.