Blog Post

Would You Fire Your ISP Over Privacy?

OK, so it’s no secret that a desire for free services on the part of consumers coupled with the desire of service providers to make a buck has spawned ever more intrusive ad models (Hello, Beacon!) But while hyper-targeted ads and behavioral advertising raise eyebrows, so far they’ve largely failed to raise consumers’ ire. Target that data from deep within an ISP, however, and people start to get worried.

It’s already led to problems in the UK. Privacy rights organizations have recently started to express concerns over the use of a service by ISPs such as BT and Virgin Media from a startup called Phorm. The company places its servers inside a telco’s network to check out the data moving through the ISP’s pipes. Phorm assures users that their data remains anonymous, and that they can choose to opt out of the program, but so far, people aren’t impressed.

Phorm is also hoping to expand into the U.S. It already has competition, from NebuAd, which is putting its deep-packet-inspection equipment inside ISPs to serve targeted ads. The company got some unwanted attention last June after Redmoon, a Texas ISP, started using the service to deliver ads on top of existing sites. If your ISP started monitoring your data so it could serve up targeted ads, would you stay with them, or would you switch? Going mobile may not help. Remember that just last week, Qualcomm agreed to pay some $32 million mobile ad insertion company Xiam.

13 Responses to “Would You Fire Your ISP Over Privacy?”

  1. Terry

    YES! I fired Charter Communications in May 2008 over use of NebuAd. Emailed the VP, called customer service, then acted on my warning. Poof – $1,440 a year of cable/internet revenue, gone! Received a letter in June 2008 stating that Charter decided not to implement Enhanced Advertising after all … for now … too late!

  2. Phorm Comms Team

    We at Phorm believe that it is wrong to store Internet users’ personal data.

    Our technology is a real turning point in the protection of privacy online – it does not store personally identifiable information, does not store IP addresss and nor does it store browsing histories. By contrast, ad targeting from other major Internet companies means that potentially identifiable personal data is stored for over 12 months before it is even anonymised. Also, because these companies reach nearly all UK Internet users, consumers effectively have no real choice about being targeted in this way. With the Phorm technology, users can choose – they can opt out or in at any time.

    You can ask questions about the system and get loads more information by visiting or or

  3. Preston Lewis

    Personally, I feel that ISPs should charge for internet access and get no other revenue from other sources. I pay a pretty good monthly fee to Comcast HSI for internet, if they really need a little more, than charge me. Don’t go behind my back and sell info about me to others.

    Having said that, I also use the file which blocks most “undesirable” sites from accessing your computer. Having empty advertising blocks and now allowing to get info about me is a real pleasure knowing my hosts. file is blocking them. If your ISP is collecting info about you or allowing others to do it, there are ways to stop them. Google and install it on your computer and update it regularly and a lot of irritants will go away.

  4. Robert Cox

    Most people care about privacy but few do anything about it. The uproar caused by Beacon is a good counter-example because it went so far over the line.

    My challenge to consumers would be to start reading privacy policies and to include privacy controls – not just price – in their decision-making matrix. It’s easy for consumers to cry foul when something crosses the imaginary line between right and wrong. The harder (and therefore better) approach is to research and understand choices and take pre-emptive control of their privacy rights.

    Robert Cox
    Sr. Privacy Manager

  5. Patrick

    I’m in the unenviable position of being a Virgin DSL subscriber. I’ve put up with the crappy connection speeds to avoid being charged for canceling early, but if they actually start using Phorm, I’ll switch faster than you can blink.

  6. MarSOnEarth

    Over my fierce objections, but if an ISP should push for it, and if I’m to become their ‘resource’, then it’s them that should pay me! IF, because my privacy if far more important to me.