Charter Informs Customers of Web-Tracking Effort

Cable and high-speed Internet provider Charter Communications has taken the unusual step of informing its customers that it will track their surf habits more closely in coming months in an effort to deliver more targeted advertising.

The company sent letters last week to customers in Texas, Connecticut, and other areas where the pilot program is being run. The messages told them how the tracking system works and how they can opt-out of the program, set to start in about a month.

“I’m writing to inform you of an enhancement coming soon to your web browsing experience,” the letter read. “[I]nnovative new technology enable Charter to provide you with an enhanced online experience that is more customized to your interests and activities,” it continued. “As a result, the advertising you typically see online will better reflect the interests you express through your web-surfing activity. You will not see more ads — just ads that are more relevant to you.”

The effort to inform customers of the change was first reported by BroadbandReports.com. Headquartered in St. Louis, Charter is publicly traded and serves over 5.7 million customers in 29 states.

The company is working with ad tech firm NebuAd to enable ad targeting based on user browsing data. NebuAd is among a handful of firms partnering with ISPs in ad targeting deals. Essentially, NebuAd takes care of selling ads and buying media, while its ISP partners provide user data for targeting. The practice has sparked concern among privacy groups in the U.S. and the U.K.

Charter’s SVP of Product Management and Strategy Ted Schremp said the company felt it was important to let its customers know about the program in the interest of privacy and transparency. “[W]e believe that one of the most important things [is] to be as forthright and transparent about this service as we can be,” he wrote in an e-mail to ClickZ News.

Because the letters only went out last week, Schremp said it is too early to gauge customer reaction, but he noted that focus group results suggested consumers weren’t opposed to the program once they were made to understand it.

“We’ve conducted focus groups with high-speed Internet customers and the majority of those folks reacted favorably to the service once they had a full understanding of how it works and received assurances that their privacy is being protected,” he wrote.

Schremp said the system would be tested for “a couple of months” before deciding whether to implement it permanently.

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