ISPs: from bad to worse

Okay, I promise that this will be the last post bashing ISPs for a while. This one is special though and displays shocking behaviour on several levels. Not being happy just spying on what you look at in order to sell your data or crippling the service they provide to you if you have the gall to actually use it, some ISPs have started altering pages you request in between the page being requested being sent to you and it displaying in your browser.

The University of Washington confirmed the rumours of this ad injection in the summer of 2007. The culprit was a system built by NebuAd (remember them?) but they soon stopped once they were rumbled. This practice prompted the researchers to develop a web tripwire tool in order to detect if web pages have been altered “in-flight”.

Speaking as a customer, this kind of ad placement serves to eat up more of my bandwidth but with unrequested content which is apparently so precious to my ISP. There was me thinking that the days of ad-supported Internet access were behind us. Back in the day, you could get free access (albeit dial-up access) if you didn’t mind being presented with a few ads. The cheek of an ISP doing exactly the same now when I’m already paying for my access is unbelievable.

With my web developer hat on, to have my content altered after it has left my server for the gain of a third party is simply theft. If a developer wants ads displayed – in order to offset the cost of hosting for example – then they will do so themselves and give some time and consideration about the placement of said ads at the design stage. The content of these ads is another thing that would be out of my control. If this ad injection was coupled with deep packet inspection profiling and you visit one of my client web sites after spending some time on the seedier side of the Internet, then your opinion of my client would be somewhat diminished were you to find an advert for some sex shop associated with their actual content.

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