No one that I know enjoys going to the doctor and getting an injection. Whether it’s as simple as a flu shot or something more complex such as a regimen of allergy shots, it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience.
Today’s topic is an injection of another sort, but the experience isn’t enjoyable either. It turns out that AT&T has jumped on the “no free lunch” bandwagon with respect to offering wireless hotspots to its customers. A Stanford computer scientist and lawyer was travelling and discovered that the AT&T hotspot to which he had connected was serving ads over web pages he was accessing. When he went to Stanford’s home page, for instance (a page that has zero ads on it), he saw a pop-up ad for jewelry and AT&T itself, and the ads persisted for several seconds until he could close them.
He discovered that the ISP was tampering with HTTP traffic – that’s what serves web pages. It is using a service from a third party to inject the ads and to monetize the traffic. AT&T is far from the first “free” service to do this – Comcast and Marriott are just two others. But as the professor wrote:
AT&T has an (understandable) incentive to seek consumer-side income from its free wifi service, but this model of advertising injection is particularly unsavory. Among other drawbacks: It exposes much of the user’s browsing activity to an undisclosed and untrusted business. It clutters the user’s web browsing experience. It tarnishes carefully crafted online brands and content, especially because the ads are not clearly marked as part of the hotspot service. And it introduces security and breakage risks, since website developers generally don’t plan for extra scripts and layout elements.
In other words, while you might have accepted that as your ISP the folks at AT&T will see and record everything that you’re doing, you might be concerned about an outside company doing so. Moreover, as a publisher, your beautiful content environment is now sullied by ads from which you derive zero revenue.
If you’re on an AT&T hotspot, you’re already an AT&T customer. I don’t believe you can log on if you’re not and you’re probably paying them handsomely each month (I know I am). This sort of nickel and diming might help revenues (I wonder how much in the scheme of things) but it doesn’t help with customer satisfaction. That’s a point from which any business can learn. Idiotic injection from my perspective. Yours?