I.S.P. Tracking: The Mother of All Privacy Battles
All of the outrage over privacy on the Internet is nothing compared to what may be coming. For years, Web companies have been trying to gather shreds of information about users in order to show them ads for things they are most likely to buy. These schemes have been accelerated over the last year, as the big Web companies like AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo have been trying to combine information they gather on their own sites with data about users gathered from networks that place ads on other sites.
In Thursday’s Times, Louise Story writes about a New York State legislator who wants to regulate these systems. She also wrote a sidebar about Phorm, a British company, that is taking a much more comprehensive approach to targeting ads to users by gathering data about everything they do on the Web from their Internet service providers. Phorm, already is working with three Internet providers — BT, Carphone Warehouse and Virgin Media.
If this approach works, the approaches by AOL and the rest may well be rendered useless as a blindfolded spy by some new companies that want to tap into the records of Internet service providers. If they can track every single click users make, they will, in theory, have the best ability to find ads that can indulge each user’s passion of the moment.
In addition to Phorm, there are other companies trying to get into the same business including NebuAd and FrontPorch. NebuAd’s chief executive, Robert Dykes, wrote an article Thursday on the iMediaConnection site describing the coming world where more data is collected about users than ever before.
There will be a business fight here. These new companies want to use I.S.P.s to gather data about what users read and what they search for that Web sites and search engines believe that they own. If NebuAd can tell that you searched for cheap flights while on AOL, there is less reason to pay for a targeted ad from AOL’s network.
And, of course, there will be a huge battle over privacy too. In many ways Phorm, NebuAd and so on