Charter To Begin Tracking Users' Searches And Inserting Targeted Ads

Charter Communications is sending letters to its customers informing them of an “enhanced online experience” that involves Charter monitoring its users’ searches and the websites they visit, and inserting targeted third-party ads based on their web activity. Charter, which serves nearly six million customers, is requiring users who want to keep their activity private to submit their personal information to Charter via an unencrypted form and download a privacy cookie that must be downloaded again each time a user clears his web cache or uses a different browser.

Reader Matt copied us on a letter he sent to Charter’s VP of Customer Operations and CEO:

Dear Mr. Stackhouse,

I am a high speed internet subscriber in the Fort Worth, TX area. For the last year or so I have had Charter’s 10 Megabit service and I am a satisfied customer. I am writing, however, because I am concerned by your recent letter discussing the “enhancement” that will be coming soon to my Charter web browsing experience (targeted, in-line advertisement manipulation). I appreciate Charter’s respect for my privacy, but the method that Charter has provided to opt-out of this tracking scheme is insecure and woefully inadequate.

The method that you provide to opt-out is as follows. First, a customer must visit http://www.charter.com/onlineprivacy. Once at the site, the customer must enter his or her complete name and address. Upon submission of this personal information, the customer must accept a cookie from Charter that indicates his or her opt-out status. While this process sounds simple on face, further consideration reveals that this opt-out method is fraught with privacy concerns and places the burden on your paying customer, rather than Charter.

The most pressing privacy issue with this opt-out method is that the opt-out form presented at the aforementioned URL is not encrypted. As I’m sure you realize, this means that a user submitting his or her address to Charter is doing so in the clear, leaving this personal information open to eavesdropping. It is not difficult to create an SSL-encrypted web form. It is troubling that Charter has not done so in this case.

The fact that this opt-out system relies on a cookie to keep users opted out is also a privacy issue. By telling customers who visit the opt-out page that, “if you delete your cookies or cache files… you will have to opt-out again,” you are encouraging users to keep those files that good privacy practices dictate should be frequently purged. Ironically, the best reason to purge one’s cookies often is to prevent internet marketers from tracking one’s behavior online.

In addition to the critical privacy concerns, the steps required to avoid being tracked by this new advertising system place the burden on your customers, rather than on Charter where it belongs. A customer should be able to opt-out of this advertising tracking system in a manner that will rarely, if ever, require the customer to opt-out again. Instead, because the system uses cookies, a customer must insecurely opt-out of being tracked on each PC in his or her home. Further compounding the work that the customer has to do, if the he or she deletes cookies in accordance with safe browsing techniques, it will be necessary to insecurely opt-out on each and every PC again.

I suggest that rather than force your customers through unending iterations of opting out of this advertising system, you should allow customers like me to opt-out at the cable modem level via a secure, encrypted form on your website. I’m glad to hear that Charter has an appreciation for my privacy, but please change your opt-out process to demonstrate that you also have an appreciation for my time and security online.

Matt’s letter focuses on the flawed opt-out clause, but the program itself, an implementation of “deep packet inspection,” is more worrying to us. Deep packet inspection allows an ISP to monitor not only its users searches and visited websites, but also the type of activity (e.g., email or peer-to-peer), which could be used for traffic shaping and threatens net neutrality.

Charter to Monitor Surfing, Insert Its Own Targeted Ads [DSLReports]
(Photo: Getty)

Comments

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  1. AstroPig7 says:

    I predict that more ISPs will pick up on this idea, and more customers will simply bend over and grip their ankles instead of doing the right thing and protesting their lungs out.

  2. pecheckler says:

    This will give birth to an era in which all Internet traffic will be encrypted.

  3. gomakemeasandwich says:

    Wow, is Charter centered in China?

  4. A very thoughtful letter which has been sent to someone who surely has no idea what the customer is talking about.

    Further, one can assume that since Charter executives approved this plan, they also had ill-considered the implications and impact on its customers.

    Finally, somewhere within Charter there surely was an engineer who dutifully communicated the many problems with the plan, only to be completely ignored.

    Does that sound about right?

  5. dragonfire81 says:

    Why does marketing have to be so invasive?? Surely there were many businesses who successfully sold products and services before the Internet every existed.

    Is it really necessary to track our every move?

  6. Parting says:

    Aren’t customers are paying already?

    WTF? Unless Charter provides FREE internet, since they are making profits on advertisement, I say it’s good reason to get out of their ”service” right away!

  7. littlemoose says:

    I’m a Charter customer and I do NOT have good feelings about this. I agree, I pay a decent amount for this service, and the company should not be selling ads based on my personal information and otherwise monitoring my activity just to make even more money. Especially not without a secure opt-out method.

    Oh, and last week I got a call from the Charter cable people, saying that my price would go up ten dollars unless I agreed to a free trial period of premium movies channels, which they would later charge me for. What?! I didn’t really even understand the CSR, who then hung up on me. Great. Guess I’ll just watch my next bill.

  8. pecheckler says:

    Keep this in mind:
    They will have to use specific methods to “inject” advertisements into the HTML of the websites you visit.
    There will be methods to circumvent this in no time. In fact, one additional filter to Ad Block Plus would do it.

    I hope this leads to legislation restricting ISPs from intercepting, documenting, or viewing unicast packetflow between and host and server… pitty I know that would never happen =/

    One day in the near future google will offer their search services over SSL.

  9. Corporate-Shill says:

    Can ya say Ad-Muncher?

    [www.admuncher.com]

    There is a free version.

    But I liked the product so much that I actually became a paying user.

    Works very well. Sorry MSNBC, your ad laden news pages are suddenly ad free.

  10. cronick says:

    Charter is the scum of the earth. For years their service was so lousy that all the broadcast channels had static. I finally left them when I was suddenly disconnected for no reason. When I called them up they explained that one of my neighbors had moved and the service person had disconnected my house by mistake. So I asked them to send somebody up to reconnect me. They told me I had to make an appointment and that it would take 7 to 10 business days.

    If I had Charter, I would start using FreeDNS, PublicDNS or OpenDNS.

  11. WraithSama says:

    Marketing is becoming increasingly invasive. The next logical step is for service providers to mandate marketing messages being lasered onto the inside of our eyelids.

    I understand the importance of marketing and the vital function it serves. I really do. But it bothers me to no end that companies are taking to the idea that their marketing messages must be forced upon us in any way possible. No longer can you elect to not view advertising media. Unless you’re living in a cave, on Mars, with your eyes shut and your fingers in your ears, you are going to be subjected to an unending barrage of advertising and there’s really not anything you can do about it. That in itself isn’t too bad, but the increasing invasiveness being adopted for marketing messages is going past the line.

  12. jdfalk says:

    The Anti-Spyware Coalition is looking at this: [www.antispywarecoalition.org]

  13. 27spots says:

    Does this clear the path for telco’s to tap phone lines in order to insert targeted ads enhancing the phone call experience?

  14. cijid says:

    Charter has been doing this for awhile at least here in California.

  15. Lambasted says:

    @27spots: If the phone company cannot listen in on our phone conversations why do ISPs get to listen in on our internet activity?

    Seriously, what’s the difference between tapping the internet and tapping phones? Both provide service and access, yet one is illegal and one isn’t. I don’t get it.

  16. uberbucket says:

    “The most pressing privacy issue with this opt-out method is that the opt-out form presented at the aforementioned URL is not encrypted.

    Yikes. Glad I don’t associate with that clown outfit anymore.

  17. azntg says:

    What’s new? The ISPs are now compelled to show us more ads online too? Looks like Charter wants to start a bad precedent now.

    My own ISP, Verizon has implemented a custom, ad-filled 404 landing page not too long ago. Previously, if I misspelled a URL, I’d get the default 404 message from whatever browser I was using. Now, I automatically land in an advertisement filled Verizon search page. Bleh!

  18. crappedcrusader says:

    I have Charter and I just entered an invalid URL. Instead of a “server not found browser page” I got a helpful Charter “didn’t find what you were looking for, so here’s some links” page.

  19. Buran says:

    @Victo: So where’s the DSL I can get without having to get a landline? I don’t want a landline. Who else can I get cable service from? Nobody.

  20. Mollyg says:

    This practice is no different then the old and common practice of phone companies listening to our conversations and playing ads over the phone based on what we say.

    Oh wait…that never happened.

  21. Cliff_Donner says:

    @Victo: Here, here!! (or is it hear, hear?) — if I’m goin to take it up the ass, I’m sure as hell not going to pay for it!

    (Seriously.)

  22. u1itn0w2day says:

    This ‘opt out’ crap is an bigger than a mountain of crap.Let’s see,we’re going to monitor your activity/invade your privacy AUTOMATICALLY so if you happen to OBJECT or read or notice every little thing we send you we will give you the OPTION,the oppurtunity to object and/or keep your privacy.We will make it a hassle,a pain:an arduous task/routine for you to keep your privacy on your PAID service with Charter.

    This almost sounds like they’re switching you to a proxy server because that what’s you have to do before you surf with one-adjust settings.And they can be a pain.

  23. Rusted says:

    If marketing gets too invasive, some people go elsewhere.

    @Corporate-Shill: A properly configured Firefox browser does the same thing.

  24. BlackFlag55 says:

    I can live without the internet. I won’t be held hostage to a marketer’s wet dream.

  25. CaliforniaCajun says:

    Dear Charter:

    Thanks for making me glad I have Comcast. I didn’t think anyone could do that!

    Sincerely,

    Someone who will NEVER be your customer.*

    *I pay for Internet Access. Not Internet monitoring, internet babysitting, or Internet interference.

  26. VaMPKiSS1 says:

    @azntg: I have Verizon and the first time I noticed the same thing, I was outraged.

    These are the instructions from stopping that behavior. Essentially, you have to go into your router and set up static DNS servers that change the last two numbers from 12 to 14 to get the old behavior back.

    Yet another example of an opt out that puts undue burdens on the consumer.

  27. P41 says:

    It’s all fun and games until someone files wire fraud charges.

    Oh and what happened to the “common carrier” theory of copyright noninvolvement?

  28. God dammit…and here I was being all smug I didn’t have Adelphia…

  29. warf0x0r says:

    Damn, they suck.

  30. Die_Fledermaus says:

    Sounds just like Phorm. Check it out on theregister.co.uk which has been fighting the good fight against such intrusion in the UK.

  31. Hanke says:

    Sorry, but WHY THE HELL should I have to view advertising on a connection I already pay $30/month for? I pay $9 a month for HBO, and the only ads I see are for other shows on HBO.

  32. dragonfire81 says:

    @Hanke: Just a profit grab. This way they make money off you TWICE, instead of just once.

    This is corporate america we’re talking about here, they’ll bleed you out of every last penny in your wallet given the chance.

  33. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    There’s some evidence that other ISP’s are already doing this.

    Ars
    Slashdot

  34. Alex Chasick says:

    @Die_Fledermaus: There’s a debate in the DSL forum about whether it’s Phorm or NebuAD.
    @Commenters talking about ad block plugins: Agreed. I love Ad Block Plus, but to my knowledge (and I haven’t explored this), ABP blocks ads, targeted and untargeted; it doesn’t block the ISPs’ snooping, right?

  35. iEddie says:

    @Buran: Dry (or sometimes called naked) DSL. IIRC most phone companies offer it. It’s usually $5 more than the standard DSL packages. I’d even get a landline to get DSL if my cable company tried pulling this crap. (The cable co. is Comcast. But I use Qwest for Internet and DirecTV for TV.)

  36. ironchef says:

    Verizon FIOS is now redirecting traffic to their own search engines for URLs without a suffix.

    It used to be the fact you can simply type consumerist without the .com to get that web address. Now they funnel all traffic to their proprietary search engine. Grrrrrrrr.

  37. donkeyjote says:

    @azntg: Verizon also provides a non-404 redirecting dsl dns. (I switched within 2 days of Verizon starting this in Jersey)
    [netservices.verizon.net]

    @ironchef: Also, non-redirecting verizon fios dns
    [log.psi.cc]
    [netservices.verizon.net]

  38. elisa says:

    I hate it when a company rolls out something consumers will hate and calls it an “upgrade” or an “enhancement.” Um, none of your customers ACTUALLY like it. Especially when it’s so hard to opt out, as this seems to be.

    I have Time Warner…so far so good, and nothing like this or Comcast’s throttling, but who knows what lies in the future?

  39. Benny Gesserit says:

    @AstroPig7: Roger’s Internet here in Canada experimented with it a number of months ago. (They SAID is was so they could insert “you’re close to your download limit” warnings into web pages but we all know that ads were next.)

    Canadian cyberspace went NUTS and they backed down immediately. They haven’t mentioned it since but that means nothing, really.

    My response would be “that’s why Zod made Greasemonkey!” I’ve removed ads and reworked every page I visit on a regular basis, what’s suppressing a few more ads?

  40. antisane says:

    @pecheckler & @Corporate-Shill:

    NoScript & Adblock Plus for FireFox work well together, and both are free :)

    I wonder if anyone will even see this as I don’t think my ability to post has been approved yet….

  41. friendlynerd says:

    Wow, sounds like it’s time to jump to a different ISP.

  42. JustThatGuy3 says:

    Here’s the thought process:

    1. Implement these ads
    2. Lose 1% of customers because they’re pissed off
    3. Increase revenue by 2% by selling ads to the other customers
    4. Increase profit

  43. scoosdad says:

    I have Charter and they’ve really shot themselves in the foot on this one. Because their internet service is cheaper to get in most of their locations if you also buy basic cable TV, people bailing out of internet over this will also drop the cable TV at the same time and go with satellite and/or antenna if they’re able to. That’s my plan. I’ve had DSL in the house for a couple of months alongside Charter internet, and so far the DSL is good enough for my purposes.

  44. bohemian says:

    This has smarmy marketing exec written all over it.

    Knology did this in the last month but you can fully opt out if you filled out the form and mailed it back. Of course the form was sent in what looked like more marketing crap so I bet half the people tossed it in the trash without opening it.

    This is just more reason that state PUC’s need to regulate cable and cellular just like they do everything else.

  45. scoosdad says:

    The other thing about this is that the letter states: “You will not see more ads – just ads that are more relevant to you.”

    If that’s true, this means one of two things:

    1. They’re putting their ads up in place of another advertiser’s ads. That alone will cause them a whole lot of grief if the other advertisers find out that their ads are being replaced by the ones Charter serves up.

    2. They’re only doing this on Charter-branded web pages, such as charter.net, their own Yahoo-style web portal for clueless subscribers who let Charter set that as their homepage. In that case, Charter sells the ad space anyway so no one other than the subscriber who’s offended by the practice is affected. Charter recently forced their subscribers to only be able to access their webmail via this page full of news and ads, but there are even workarounds to that. :-)

  46. heavylee-again says:

    The world is going to hell. If a communications popped up (Internet, cell phone, cable TV) that provided decent service and treated its customers like human beings, there would be a mass-migration to them.

  47. PinkBox says:

    @crappedcrusader: They’ve been doing that for a long time to me. :/

    The odd thing is that a lot of those pages I KNOW aren’t bad links, so I’m really not sure why sometimes they work, and sometimes I get that landing page.

  48. heavylee-again says:

    @heavylee-again: If a communications company……

  49. cuddles71 says:

    @JustThatGuy3:
    When my ISP (Windstream) tried it a couple of months back, they lost a lot more than 1%. They changed their decision to making it opt-in after losing 18% of their customers in 2 weeks.

  50. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    @azntg:

    Just change your DNS settings to OpenDNS or some other decent DNS server.

  51. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    @ironchef:

    Again, just change your DNS settings, it’s very easy.

  52. This kind of crap makes me glad I am my own ISP.

  53. scoosdad says:

    Oh one more thing. The cookie that Charter sets has an expiration date of exactly one year from the date it’s set. To the experts out there– can this cookie auto-extend itself somehow, or will all this opt-out stuff be moot in 12 months and suscribers won’t realize it and start seeing the ads anyway?

    Sounds like the “don’t call” list that expires anyway.

  54. stephenball1 says:

    @cuddles71: Down here in North Georgia, Windstream is still hijacking my mistyped web addresses. It redirects to their own search engine that uses yahoo ads. It is absolute bullshit. I can’t believe a company would redirect my web pages and stuff more money in their pockets. If I try to opt out, I have to re-download the cookie every time.

  55. heavylee-again says:

    @Big Flicker: Wanna post a link to your company? Maybe some of us want to sign up.

  56. rbb says:

    Have you ever noticed that the only reason companies use “opt-out” on a program is because if they made it “opt-in,” no one would…

  57. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    @Buran:

    You can’t get Naked DSL through AT&T?

  58. blackmage439 says:

    Wide Open West just recently implemented this in the Chicago area. Their process is a tad more secure, and less burdensome. You need only follow a link, sent in the email, to opt out. There’s no form to fill out, or personal information sent. You only have to deal with the cookie thing. Aggravating? Yes. I would rather deal with honest manipulation of my traffic, rather than the dishonest kind (I’m looking at you, COMCAST!)…

  59. Red_Eye says:

    Gosh whats next? Will phone companies monitor our calls and provide the information to…. oh crap nevermind….

  60. mike says:

    Here’s a question I think I’ve asked before: Why do you still get ads even if you pay for the service?

    I am paying for my Interlog service. Why do they need to show ads? Is it to subsidize the cost or is it to generate revenue?

  61. JustThatGuy3 says:

    @cuddles71:

    Do you have any support for this 18% assertion?

    I took a look, and Windstream’s been adding 40-60k DSL subscribers/quarter for the last 3 years, and added 40k DSL subscribers in the first quarter of 2008. Not only has there been no decline in subscribers, the growth hasn’t slowed either.

  62. JustThatGuy3 says:

    @linus:

    It’s the same thing – revenue comes from either ads or fees.

    This is viewed, by most people (not all, but most), as a pretty painless thing. Particularly the branded 404 pages – people don’t seem to care whether they get a firefox 404 page or Comcast’s, it still tells them they got the address wrong.

  63. lol_wut says:

    I tried changing my DNS settings with Charter and after two days nothing worked. Actually, my settings were the same and OpenDNS picked up on me, but Charter did something on their end to make it not work.

    Since they have implemented this, and other strategies to monitor and control your online behavior, I’m debating just using my phone for e-mail and browsing at work using our local ISP – who I hate for billing reasons only.

  64. t325 says:

    @Victo: Believe me, we’ve been trying for years. AT&T doesn’t have DSL in our neighborhood, so Charter is our only option for broadband.

  65. Tallanvor says:

    @Alex Chasick: If it’s not Phorm, it’s still basically the same thing. My current ISP in the UK is one of those who had signed up for it, but is now backpedaling after the backlash.

    Oh, well, in another month I move to Oslo… I haven’t seen anything about them doing this crap there. I guess I’ll find out.

  66. AstroPig7 says:

    @scoosdad: Cookies don’t automatically renew unless the source resets them during your next visit. In other words, you have to go through the process again, regardless.

  67. ChipMcDougal says:

    This is ridiculous. If I was a Charter customer I would of canceled my service by now.

  68. Start doing a whole bunch of bogus searches. Do searches for “Chinese monkey porn” or “Executive Email Carpet Bomb” or “excuse me, where are the nuclear vessels?” That’ll fix ‘em.

  69. bohemian says:

    @Steaming Pile: Even better, have someone make a widget that goes out and searches for a bunch of bogus search terms constantly when the user isn’t on their system. Have angry Charter customers implement it on their systems to run whenever they are inactive. It will eat up bandwidth and erode their data mining.

  70. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    Previously, if I misspelled a URL, I’d get the default 404 message from whatever browser I was using. Now, I automatically land in an advertisement filled Verizon search page.
    @azntg: Yeah, Charter was doing that too before I switched to AT&T.

    @Jaysyn: They make it very difficult to get.

    @elisa: I know, I hate that SO much! I also hate that you even have to opt-out in the first place. If it’s an enhancement why not make the people who want it opt-in? Oh wait, because nobody would want to be spyed on or fed more ads!

  71. evslin says:

    List of companies who can go fuck themselves this morning:

    1) Charter

  72. speedeep says:

    Charter customer, already using OpenDNS for performance reasons. Not happy with this threat of invasion of privacy. I already cut the cable with the phone company and went VOIP over Charter broadband, maybe it’s time to run the whole house network over EVDO (does VOIP do well over EVDO?)

    Charter is service going to be free or significantly cheaper now that you are milking your customer’s data streams and selling off advertising? This is low.

  73. Kevino says:

    Hey, direct marketing! Just what everyone wants Charter! Man, do they know their customers or what?

  74. whydidnt says:

    Sigh, If Charter & the rest of the ISPs had there way, we’d pay them $50.00 a month for nothing more than the right to sit and watch ads all day long. Actually using the service they are selling seems like it is a huge inconvenience to these companies.

    A simple solution for ISPs that feel they need to augment their income with ads pushed to their paying customers: – Price your service appropriately and offer a discount to those that are willing to subject themselves to even more “targeted” advertising. Instead we get this BS, where you can only sort of opt-out on a temporary basis, in other words “you can’t really opt-out”.

  75. mike says:

    @JustThatGuy3: I understand it still gives the user the same information; the question still comes down to why.

    Verizon, Comcast, Cox, et al. seem to have put some money to create a page that searches your query if the site doesn’t really exist. On this page includes ads. If they never made the special page, we would get a default “Your page was not found” by your browser.

    Why does this page even exist? It seems like another way for the ISPs to make money at the expense of the customer.

  76. @scoosdad: 2. And you’d be using Charter mail for what reason?

    I think you’re right on that most of the people affected by this are the people dumb enough to set their homepage to Charter. Most other ISPs have some sort of data collection too, so lets not give Charter all the credit here.

  77. Centurytel will be doing this as well. A customer can opt out.

  78. zentec says:

    How is this not illegal under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act?

  79. Throtex says:

    So wait … if a Charter user visits a web page I run, they will be presented with a modified version of the page including Charter-sponsored ads?

    I can’t wait until a Charter user visits one of my sites, then, so I can sue Charter for copyright infringement.

  80. rabiddachshund says:

    And here I am thinking that charter is the last decent ISP.

  81. SupriyaGreene says:

    That is what TOR and I2p and Freenet are for

  82. AdmiralNelson says:

    Huge Copyright infringement liability here. I’m surprised their legal department allowed this.

  83. neuman1812 says:

    TOR I2p and Freenet. Done

  84. fullmetalgenesis says:

    Just called and confirmed this all with Charter, after explaining to two reps what “opt-out” meant and sending them scrambling to get in touch with their “security departmet” since niether had ever heard of the service. I asked to be transferred to cancellation on the spot after confirming it was opt-out only and required the download of the opt-out cookie every time the cache/cookies are cleared. The second rep was in disbelief that I routinely deleted my internet cookies.

    I do have to say though, the cancellation rep was the most pleasant person I have talked to in ages. Very nice lady from a South Carolina call center.

  85. kathyl says:

    Wow, and just a day or so ago I thought I couldn’t have been happier to move out of an area that was only served by Charter. I was wrong.

    Of course, now the provider I currently have will get the brainstorm to copy the idea and I’ll be right up the creek with everyone still stuck with Charter.

    Honestly, Charter is one of the worst companies I’ve ever had the misfortune to have to deal with. My condolences to all the Consumerist readers who are still stuck with them.

  86. GearheadGeek says:

    @speedeep: While I haven’t actually tried it, I’d expect conventional voip to sound fairly crappy over evdo, there’s usually significantly more latency for the evdo connection as compared to a decent wired broadband connection.

  87. pz says:

    @bohemian: someone’s already made this: it’s an extension called trackmenot!

  88. kbarrett says:

    Two thoughts:

    Use open dns so your name server requests aren’t telling these louts where you are going ( this one is free and easy … everyone should be doing it ):
    [www.opendns.com]

    Use an encrypted proxy service, or if you can’t afford a paid one, use Tor:
    [www.torproject.org]

  89. kbarrett says:

    Ad block is nice … but I am more concerned about being tracked in the first place.

  90. kbarrett says:

    @mdmadph: Bad utility. Good idea, poor implementation.

    Google blocks fast multiple searches … and it slows your machine down to a crawl. Useful only if you have a home network, and can dedicate one extra PC to only doing this.

  91. tedivm says:

    A representative will be with you shortly.
    You have been connected to TTM Mike .

    TTM Mike : Hi this is Mike from Charter. How may I help you today?

    Robert Hafner: I read an article online, and the followed it to the Charter webpage, which states that Charter is going to be monitoring my surfing habits and placing ads into pages I’m viewing. I am wondering how soon this will happen to me personally.
    Robert Hafner: [connect.charter.com]

    TTM Mike : I do apologize but let me transfer you over toour internet support line.
    TTM Mike has left the session.

    Please wait while we find an agent from the CHAT – DUMA – HSD Support department to assist you.

    You have been connected to TTD Grah .

    TTD Grah : Hi, this is Grah. Thank you for contacting Charter’s High Speed Internet support. How may I be of assistance to you today?

    Robert Hafner: I read an article online, and the followed it to the Charter webpage, which states that Charter is going to be monitoring my surfing habits and placing ads into pages I’m viewing. I am wondering how soon this will happen to me personally.

    TTD Grah : One moment please.
    Robert Hafner: [connect.charter.com] Contains the information

    Robert Hafner: that I am basing this question off of.
    Robert Hafner: As well as [consumerist.com]

    TTD Grah : Yes, that is our new update.
    TTD Grah : One moment please as I download the document.
    TTD Grah : Charter has formed a partnership with an industry-leader in online advertising, NebuAd (www.nebuad.com). NebuAd, through their advertising network, will display targeted advertisements to Charter High-Speed® Internet customers while they are surfing the Web. NebuAd does not collect and use personally identifiable information to deliver advertising. Customers will not see more ads – just ads that are more relevant to their interests that have been expressed through their web-surfing activity.
    TTD Grah : The feature will be activated automatically for Charter HSI customers beginning in June 2008 in the following four Charter markets:
    • Newtown, Connecticut
    • Fort Worth, Texas
    • San Luis Obispo, California
    • Oxford, Massachusetts

    Robert Hafner: So the ads are placed directly into websites I would normally view?

    Robert Hafner: How do I opt-out for an entire household, with multiple computers and browsers?
    Robert Hafner: Currently the only way to opt-out is by placing a cookie under each browser of each account of each computer, which is absolutely insane.

    TTD Grah : The technology can actually often distinguish between different users on a shared computer and, therefore, can serve different ads to different users. Only a portion of the ads you see will be a function of the enhanced service – you will still see some ads that are served based on other criteria.

    Robert Hafner: The question was were are those ads being placed- are they replacing other ads on websites, for instance?
    Robert Hafner: And if so, how is the owner of the actual website going to be compensated?

    TTD Grah : This site may appear depending on what are you trying to view online.
    TTD Grah : This site will give you options on what to have according to what you need.

    Robert Hafner: What site are you referring to?

    TTD Grah : Say for example, you are surfing because you wish to purchase shoes online, this site will pop up and give you options to chose from.
    TTD Grah : That is how it works.
    TTD Grah : That is how it works.
    TTD Grah : The site will not pop up everytime you go online.

    Robert Hafner: So this only affects my traffic to the charter search site?

    Robert Hafner: And it gives pop up ads?

    TTD Grah : Yes.

    Robert Hafner: So it won’t affect any other site I go to?

    TTD Grah : Yes, that is correct.

    Robert Hafner: So what is this tracking that it does? I’m aware that its deep-packet tracking, which means its monitoring everything I do, not just what I search for, so how can I disable that for my entire household?

    TTD Grah : The ads you will see are standard ad types, such as banner ads and similar advertising formats, and are displayed only where you would typically expect to see them. You will not see any more ads now than you would otherwise see while on the Internet. They will not be any more intrusive or different from the standard ad formats you see across the Internet.

    Robert Hafner: You just said they appear only on the Charter search website, and now you’re saying they replace other ads- which is it?

    TTD Grah : It really depends on what you are surfing.
    TTD Grah : As our valued customer, we want you to be in complete control of your online experience. If you wish to opt out of this service, you may do so at any time by visiting http://www.charter.com/onlineprivacy and following our easy to use opt out feature. To opt out, it is necessary to install a standard opt-out cookie on your computer. If you delete the opt out cookie, or if you change computers or web browsers, you will need to opt out again.

    Robert Hafner: I want to opt-out my household- are you saying the only way to permanently opt-out my household is to cancel my service?

    TTD Grah : No, you have the option to opt-out the new program. Just visit this site: http://www.charter.com/onlineprivacy and then follow the steps.

    Robert Hafner: But then I have to opt-out each individual browser of each account of each computer, and then no one can delete their cookies which creates other security issues. I want a way to opt-out my house- is there a way, other than canceling my service, that I can do that with?

    TTD Grah : I am sorry, that is the only way to opt-out your computer or browser from the program.
    TTD Grah : That is the only suggested way of doing it.

    Robert Hafner: Thank you for your time. I’m going to be posting this on my website and emailing my clients in the area (I am in the Massachusetts affected area, by the way) so others can see the problems with this and cancel as well.

    TTD Grah : You’re welcome.
    TTD Grah : I am sorrry, if this may cause you any incovenience.
    TTD Grah : Have a wonderful day, sir!
    TTD Grah : Thank you for choosing Charter Communications. Answers to frequently asked questions and self-help options can be found by looking in the “Customer Help” menu at http://www.charter.com. If you have further questions, please chat with us again. Our chat support is available from 7 AM through 1:30 AM central time, 365 days a year. Have a great day!
    If you require further assistance, go to http://www.charter.com/contact
    Your session has ended. You may now close this window.

  92. OlafMunippus says:

    When we moved to this address 3 years ago, Charter was the only option
    for high speed internet, but when At&T came out here, we purposly chose
    to stick with Charter because AT&T was spying.

    The thing is we pay over $70 a month becuase they keep uping the
    “speed” and the cost for it. Speed we don’t need and don’t use. At
    this point we’ve decided why pay 3 times as much for the same level of
    dis-service. We’ll be cancelig our cable too since we hardly ever
    watch TV.

    Thanks to their greedy ad grab we’ll be saving over $50 a month!!

  93. This is what people get when they force down prices and you “get what you pay for” when companies look for other ways to make money.

    Would people pay more for no target ad insertion internet service? signs tend to point to no.

  94. rmz says:

    If this actually survives the initial backlash and becomes a standard policy, I’m personally becoming a luddite because this is completely insane.

  95. Mr. Gunn says:

    Learn from Phorm, people. It’s a bad idea, and not something any ISP wants to be involved with.

    /no, you can’t sneak it in, either.

  96. mc_900_ft_jedi says:

    I’m lucky enough not to have had any problems with Charter; aside from the occasional outage due to weather. Sadly, I don’t know of anyone that *has* had a good experience with them (the service area is divided into East and West sections by the Mississippi and most of the folks I know live in the West section).

    Though this change does not affect me now I will have to cancel and go to AT&T DSL (argh!) if Charter decides to go full throttle with this.

    My hopes are with all of you in those 4 markets.

  97. valid902 says:

    Dear Mr Stackhouse,
    Your deliberate manipulation of my copyrighted webpage and advertisements for my own site are a violation of US Code 17 U.S.C. § 512 (a) (5).
    Please remember to speak to your lawyers first.
    Each time you manipulate my page in transit is a copyright violation.
    Have a nice day. And by the way you can probably afford my lawyer.
    Sincerely
    valid902

  98. samson says:

    ? is do we all write letters, send emails, and make phone calls. consumers unite in protest. ok, you can take it from here

  99. gpapilion says:

    The first question is do they REALLY, and I mean REALLY have the technical means of doing this.

    Datamining is hard, and I suspect the first problem charter will have is just trying to collect all that data is a usable form. I suspect this will be a customer service nightmare for them, since the performance of their system will be slow.

  100. twistedcain says:

    All this is going to do is force websites to become subscription only services. As a webmaster with over 20,000 web pages online, I say Fuck Charter and all the other assholes trying to profit from my hard work.

    You think google is going to spend billions to create free maps, searches, and run youtube while fucktards like Charter ponyback off them for free, unlikely.

    I have Charter and the first time I see them insert an ad on one of my websites, I’m blocking all traffic from them and switching ISP’s.

    P.S. Fuck you Charter and kiss my ass

  101. krescendo says:

    I just received my letter and I was in shock/denial reading it. So this is what things have come to?

    I feel for the people that don’t know better and will have to live with this. I have plenty of means to remove their stupid ads and taint their collected data in what seems more and more like a web version of telemarketing.

    Of course their DPI will in no way improve the quality of my service nor will it make any of it less expensive.

    Like when are they going to get me a better uplink speed?

    I wonder if this is an overall manifestation of finance issues at charter and they’re going to pull crack-whore things like this to try and make money.

    Their cable service is lacking and most of my friends have switched to directv. I’m considering that myself too.

    I also wish they’d stop bombarding me with their stupid phone service flyers. I’m not interested in 12 months of a so-so deal on it just have my payments go through the roof in a year.

    Pathetic…

  102. lifewithryan says:

    If i registered a cancelcharter.com domain and put up a signup form to “pledge to cancel” Charters services if they don’t back down, would anyone here “sign” it? Even if it didn’t affect your area…”YET”?

    I’ll put it up if you’ll pass the word. the URL is available, but I’m not going to buy it if its going to waste. This would require an actual “pledge to cancel” all of charters services (not just internet) if they don’t back off this initiative. Anyone with me?

    I’m toying with the idea of sending notification to whatever charters customer service email address is everytime someone signs up but worry about “spam” repercussions….

    thoughts?

  103. joey22 says:

    I hate to admit it, but I’m looking forward to receiving the letter from Charter.

    I plan to staple it to something nasty and mail it back to them. Have already registered with a local ISP for replacement service.

  104. OxfordGauth says:

    Here’s something to consider:

    From the Cable TV Privacy Act of 1984, which still governs Charter’s legal
    obligations while providing Internet access:

    Section 551(d): A cable subscriber shall be provided access to all
    personally identifiable information regarding that subscriber which is
    collected and maintained by a cable operator. Such information shall be
    made available to the subscriber at reasonable times and at a convenient
    place designated by such cable operator. A cable subscriber shall be
    provided reasonable opportunity to correct any error in such information.

    I’m on the phone with them right now demanding a copy of all information on
    me that they sent to NebuAD. If they fail to deliver it’s $100 per day per
    customer. If all of us here call Charter today and update our accounts to
    reflect our demand for legally-mandated information, perhaps they’ll
    recognize the problem. Worst-case scenario we all get a check when Charter
    is deemed to be acting illegally by not providing this data.

    There’s a lot more in Section 551 that applies as well. read it here:
    http://epic.org/privacy/cable_tv/ctpa.html

  105. Randomeis says:

    Me: what can you tell me about the targeted advertising plan i was reading about?
    CVH Cristal : Can you please give me the information about that advertising?
    CVH Cristal : Please let me know if you are still connected to the Chat session at this time.
    Me: [connect.charter.com]
    Me: when will this be happening in montgomery?
    CVH Cristal : That link took me to Frequently asked questions.
    Me: it is the charter FAQ for the “Enhanced Online Experience”
    Me: the targeted ads that i was reading about
    If you require further assistance, go to http://www.charter.com/contact
    Your session has ended. You may now close this window.

    What excellent customer service!

    Aside answer to something I always wondered about earlier in the convo
    CVH Cristal : The non promotional prices are not on the website.

  106. HilliardChaffin says:

    I live in the Warren Michigan area. Wide Open West just sent notification they are doing the same thing. They have a 3rd party tracking activity. I made the same complaint that I deleted all content when log off so I would have to opt out each time I log in. This is unaceptable. I have two more weeks and I’m turning internet access off. I would rather save $50 a month and go to the library for internet access.

  107. ShantalaCabango says:

    From Reuters:

    “WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Two U.S. lawmakers raised privacy concerns on Friday
    about plans by cable company Charter Communications to track some
    subscribers’ Internet visits and asked for a meeting before the program goes
    ahead.”

    Full article here:
    http://www.reuters.com/article/internetNews/idUSN1643866620080516

  108. ZukeZuke says:

    I just got my letter from Charter on this. I’m not happy about this tracking one bit, but they are the only internet cable provider in our County. I’m a gamer and DSL is not going to give me the consistent low-pings I need for online FPS’s. I did the opt-out cookie thing, but it sounds like it’s going to be pretty easy for that to get expunged by ordinary system cleaning utilities.

  109. Crazytree says:

    if the people in:
    • Newtown, Connecticut
    • Fort Worth, Texas
    • San Luis Obispo, California
    • Oxford, Massachusett

    take it, then they’ll roll it out nationwide.