Tag Archives: Internet service provider

Idiotic Injecting

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?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Data Collection Matters

There was a piece on MediaPost about how the broadband providers and their trade associations have gone to court to prevent the FCC from imposing some of the new rules on how those providers may behave. The specific ones upon which I’m focused today are the ones concerning privacy and data collection. The article explains the issue nicely:

They specifically complain that the FCC’s decision to treat broadband as a utility also empowers the agency to impose privacy rules that could curb its behavioral advertising efforts, which involve targeting ads to users based on the Web sites they visit.

“Today, broadband providers can lawfully use information about customers’ Internet access services and usage to develop customized marketing programs that benefit both the provider and its customers,” AT&T and the others say in their court papers.

On the surface, maybe they have a point.  After all, many of us prefer to see targeted ads and as someone who has made a living off of marketing programs I’m all for them.  There is, however, a broader issue and it’s one of which any business who collects data (that would probably be YOU, dear reader) needs to remain cognizant.

The amount of data your wireless and/or broadband provider has about you is staggering.  They know where you’ve been and when.  They know what you research and with whom you communicate.  This fabulous piece demonstrates what all of this data retention means.  Ad targeting is one very simple use, but what happens when some insurance company decides to work with a broadband provider to find speeders and raise their rates?

Honestly, I’d still be OK with all of it with a very big IF.  Ask yourself this: do you know what’s being collected and do you know how it’s being used?  I can can “yes” to the first question and a very big “no” to the second.  I’m not a tin-foil hat guy – I don’t think there are seriously nefarious things going on at the ISP’s involving data misuse (the government is another matter).  I do think, however, that data collection needs to be explained to consumers in simple language and with sample data.  I think we all need transparency and the ability to opt in, not the demand that we opt out.  Having some protections in place isn’t a bad thing.  After all, the brief history of the commercial internet is rife with bad actors (see ad injectors, malware distributors, browser hijackers, etc.) who will do just about anything to line their pockets.

How do you see it?

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

The Future At The Gates

Over the holidays I spent time catching up on a lot of video content I had missed.  Not unusual, I know, but what was different was how I accessed it.  Some I watched using the VOD capability of my cable provider.  Some I streamed via an Xbox and either Hulu, Amazon, or Netflix.  That video came via my internet connection which was not through my cable provider.   It got me thinking about the gatekeepers, both current and future, and why the battle over Net Neutrality is so critical.

You probably haven’t read the latest PWC study on how consumers are using video.  You can read it here – it’s an excellent study.  The term they use is “videoquake” and I think it’s apt:

This is a wake-up call not just for cinemas and film studios, but also for traditional cable and satellite players and anyone involved in video content production and distribution. The shift is here—alternative forms of video content will continue to rock not only what we watch, but how, where and with whom.

Most of us don’t have more than one high-speed internet provider from whom we can buy service.  There is very little competition and, therefore, no market pressure for many of these ISP’s to upgrade their services.  In many cases it’s the cable TV provider who is also the ISP.  Part of this has to do with the legacy of how cable came to be.  The companies were granted local monopolies in return for building out the systems.  Seemed like a fair trade at the time.  Data to the home was not on many people’s radar when this went on and today these systems are under no obligation to allow anyone else to access their poles or wires.  Building out a competitor is extremely difficult.

You might be aware of the impending FCC rule making on net neutrality.  I won’t write to 3,000 additional words it would take to explain it but in brief many are calling on the FCC to reclassify ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. The popular belief is that Title II classification would allow the FCC to protect net neutrality by regulating against paid prioritization.  You can read a longer explanation here.

While I’m not sure that’s the right answer (rules from 1934?  Seriously?), one effect this would have is to require access to those poles making build out much easier.  If you’re a business that has made money (a LOT of money) from a monopoly on bringing content into the home via coax (cable TV) or ethernet (internet service), you can hear the future at the gate and it’s banging rather loudly. Imagine what happens when not just Google Fiber but companies such as Apple or Yahoo offer internet service (everything old is new again – AOL, anyone?) via their own pipes.

With more and more content being delivered on a stand-alone basis via our internet connections, the gatekeeper (now the wireless carriers or the cable companies in most cases) will collect not just the monthly fees but the data associated with the usage.  That data might be even more valuable (hmm – a free high-speed internet provider who just sells data?  Investors?).

Are you hearing the banging at the gates too?  What are your thoughts?

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Filed under digital media, Thinking Aloud