Posted July 8, 2008 3:44 pm by with 8 comments

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NebuAdOk, so it’s no great secret that the online activities of web users can be tracked so what’s the fuss about NebuAd?

In an attempt to make the advertising delivered to their customers more targeted several smaller phone and cable providers have been using NebuAd (Who named this company by the way? They should be looking for a job in another field.). The Wall Street Journal is reporting that privacy advocates are rising up against the level of “tracking” that occurs through this service and those of other companies, like Phorm, who is “watching” the British market in a similar fashion. These services claim to track online behaviors more thoroughly so more targeted advertising can take place. The obvious upside for the phone and cable operators is the increase in ad revenue due to the more pinpoint targeting of consumers. Sounds a bit Big Brotherish, doesn’t it?

Apparently the new services don’t just track behaviors on a few select sites but rather they follow a web user anywhere they go on the internet. According to the article:

“With NebuAd’s technology, the Web surfers are identified via encrypted computer Internet protocol addresses. The technology tracks their surfing and then lumps it into categories, such as automotive, for sale to advertisers. The data can be subdivided in great detail — for example: consumers who have browsed for convertibles in the past 30 days.”

As a marketer this sounds really cool but as a consumer it sounds a bit creepy. Online advertising is even receiving the attention of the US Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee (seems like a lot of real estate for just one committee to cover doesn’t it?) who will meet on Wednesday to discuss just how much privacy violation occurs with online advertising. There’s even talk of these providers violating wiretap laws.

The long and short of this is that the implications of how this is handled could be significant. Traditional media is desperate to tie their various platforms together to target consumers across all of them. This, in turn, will make advertisers drool at the information to the point of paying big dollars for the opportunity to sell to these consumers. The industry is obviously interested in the outcome of these “investigations” as seen here:

“Everybody in the industry is looking at the NebuAd trials, and the notion of [targeting] across all their platforms,” says Craig Moffett, a telecom analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. “This is likely to slow things down a bit.”

Oh, there is one other twist to his story. Many of the employees of NebuAd were executives at Claria (which was once Gator) who were leading adware makers. Phorm is a bit notorious for creating PeopleOnPage which has been ID’d by internet security firms as spyware. Both of those areas are big internet no-no’s and there is concern that these apples have not fallen far from the tree.

So what, right? It depends. The more marketers know about a prospect the better they can target their offerings to meet a need that exists in the market. Good ol’ fashioned free market capitalism, right? In the same breath, however, how much do we as consumers, want to be known to advertisers? I suspect this will be a personal preference issue that may involve some form of opting in for the future. In the meantime, these cable and phone operators are going to need to tread lightly when they make a “one size fits all” decision to know everything about their paying customers. Some of their customers may fight back.

  • Katya Sherman

    NebuAd and Gator are just a few of the dangers to the Internet users. I personally believe in taking a proactive approach when it comes to Internet security and anonymity. There is a wide array of tools on the market that could be used to protect the identity of the users. My favorite is the Hotspot Shield a free VPN solution that conceals user identity when I surf the net. This way no one can see what I do online and I don’t have to worry about the DSL provider trying to make some extra revenue on me. A free download is available at

  • Frank said:”…So what, right? It depends. The more marketers know about a prospect the better they can target their offerings to meet a need that exists in the market. Good ol’ fashioned free market capitalism, right?…”

    soem good points ther Frank However the Main point you all seem to be forgetting OC as the competition, from you POV OC, is this very thing 3×2 mentions below

    care of 3×2

    Re: Virgin Media Phorm Webwise Adverts [Updated: See Post No. 1, 77, 102 & 797]


    Looking at HW’s earlier link (…t-all-bad-news)

    Behavioural targeting has long been predicted to be the way of the future in the world of online advertising, it allows advertisers to deliver ads targeted to a user’s profile and offers them a more relevant online experience /Quote:

    3×2 said:
    There seems to a practical point being missed by “the world of online advertising” in their support for behavioural targeting. Had Phorm signed up 70% of UK broadband customers – where would this leave the rest of the UK online advertising industry?

    There can only be one installation at the ISP(s) and if that is Phorm then unless you work for Phorm you will see nothing of the bright new future. Chances are, if Kent is right about the reduction in irrelevant (non-Phorm) advertising, you are more likely to be unemployed shortly.

    Given Phorms unique position, the door is open for gathering a good deal of useful commercial (non-subscriber, competitor?) information while the wire-tap is up. How much more impressive will Phorm’s presentation be when poaching XYZ’s cleints if it is based on actual habits of 10 million subscribers. I know that if I had access to that information I would use it.

    I think that if I were involved in online advertising right now I would be getting quite worried about my future.
    par·a·site : An organism that grows, feeds, and is sheltered on or in a different organism while contributing nothing to the survival of its host – see Phorm “

  • PS3

    I’m in the UK on Virgin Media Broadband but can say with certainly that it isn’t working….I don’t get Ads that remotely reflect my browsing experience and online activities.

  • For marketing? Or for New World Order? Probably both 🙂

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  • Just something else for most average folks to get alarmed at. Any demographic type targeting like this is never as accurate as they would have you believe it is.

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  • Demographic and behavioral targeting should be opt-in only, in my opinion, and regulated. More and more users become privacy-aware and resort to all sort of workarounds to having their data protected – when publishers will have figured this out, it’ll probably be too late to get users to provide even non-sensitive data.

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  • Yet another article alerting us to a corporation electing to infringe on user privacy. Seems to be the trend at the moment. Give us some good news!

  • Yes, that seems like the latest trend.

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