Several online reports last week heralded the formal demise of NebuAd, the behavioral web advertising company sued by several individuals last year after the nature of NebuAd’s technology, and the privacy concerns associated with it, became public knowledge.
I followed this last year primarily because Grand Junction Internet Service Provider Bresnan Communications was one of the companies that contracted with NebuAd to test its behavioral advertising technology in certain markets.
Bresnan and Mesa County rural telephone provider CenturyTel were sued, along with other ISPs, by several users who claimed that their privacy rights had been violated by the Deep Packet Inspection technology employed by NebuAd to determine the web use patterns of subscribers, and embed website advertising in response to those trends.
According to web reports, all of the involved ISPs have petitioned to be removed from the suit, citing their innocence to the nefarious methods used by NebuAd to obtain user surfing data.
Another source reports that the status of that lawsuit “remains unresolved”.
Yet while many outlets reported that NebuAd was shutting down as a U.S. company, the ubiquitous nature of the Internet brought reports from across the pond that NebuAd is apparently re-emerging in the U.K. as something called InsightReady.
I asked Bresnan V.P. of Public Affairs Shawn Beqaj via e-mail about the status of their relationship with NebuAd, in light of the revelation that it may be emerging from seeming death as a new company, albeit operating outside the US.
Mr. Beqaj replied:
“I think it is important to note that when Bresnan performed the limited test of the NebuAd platform in one market, we strictly adhered to the existing FTC rules whereby we notified all of our customers involved in that test and gave them a choice of opting in or out of the trial. With Congressional scrutiny however, the environment in which we began that trial changed and Bresnan quickly suspended the test. At that time we clearly stated that we would not continue addressable advertising trials with any of our High Speed Internet customers or any vendor until the new public vetting of this sector was complete and clear rules were agreed upon by the policymakers and agencies involved. This issue continues to exist in the public discourse on Capitol Hill and we stand by our statement to not engage in any further activity until it is resolved. “
My concerns about NebuAd revolved primarily around the local angle, especially as a Bresnan customer. Mr. Beqaj’s prompt and comprehensive reply, combined with the effect of the public outcry and subsequent congressional involvement, seems to have put the saga of NebuAd to bed, at least for Americans.
However, I feel bad for those British subjects who are becoming increasingly intruded upon by a surveillance society. To quote one of the British websites dedicated to web privacy issues:
“This will come as no surprise to most as we certainly expected NebuAd to rebrand and relaunch in an attempt to shed their tarnished reputation – but what is a concern is that it is very clear the UK has become a safe haven for corporations with a desire to prey on people’s personal and private data.”
You really have to admire the dedication of experts like Robb Topolski, who first exposed the activities of NebuAd for Public Knowledge and the Free Press Action Center, and others who work and sweat the details in order to keep the Internet unencumbered from intrusive governments, corporate media, and others who would seek to curtail or exploit the free exchange of ideas and information.
Have a good week ahead.