Another ISP Delays Using Behavioral Targeting System

A week after Charter Communications backpedaled on plans to implement NebuAds’ controversial behavioral tracking and ad serving platform, another of the vendor’s ISP partners has put on the brakes.

CenturyTel, which was among the first ISPs to test the NebuAd platform, will no longer put it into action across its whole network, as had been its plan. A spokesperson, Annmarie Sartor, said the company had not determined a definite date to flip the switch, but “we were looking at some time this summer,” she said.

Now the deal is off until further notice.

Unlike Charter’s statement, which cited subscribers’ concerns, CenturyTel said it was motivated by the urgings of Congressmen Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, who said the technology “raises several red flags.”

In a statement issued last week, Representative Markey heralded Charter’s decision to smother its deal with NebuAds and added, “I urge other broadband companies considering similar user profiling programs to similarly hold off on implementation while these important privacy concerns can be addressed.”

“We are delaying our implementation plans, really based on a request for all ISPs to delay their plans from representatives Markey and Barton,” Sartor said, adding CenturyTel is notifying customers of the delay. Additionally, the company has updated its privacy policy to remove references to NebuAd and the practice of behavioral tracking for ad serving purposes.

CenturyTel’s move is the latest in a series of challenges to NebuAd. In addition to the Capitol Hill challenge to NebuAd’s Charter deal and Charter’s subsequent decision to put the relationship on ice, a loose coalition of Internet watchdogs has recently formed to fight ISP-based behavioral targeting. The groups include the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Center for Digital Democracy, Public Knowledge, and Free Press. They have agreed to share information, conduct legal analysis, and meet with officials on Capitol Hill.

Additionally, Public Knowledge and Free Press last week issued a damning technical report on NebuAd’s user tracking system. They concluded the technology violates Web and privacy standards by intercepting users’ online communications and injecting data packets into site owners’ cookies unbeknownst to either party.

From a technology standpoint, Sartor said the ISP still stands behind NebuAd’s platform. “We did have confidence in the service, and I believe we still do,” she said.

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