Charter Trades Privacy for Pocketbook
Internet Service Provider Charter Communications has cooked up a new scheme to fill the coffers, and are rolling it out with a letter campaign to customers advising that the new policy will be pennies over privacy.
The program is frighteningly similar to the UK-based Phorm, which lit a firestorm that spread as high as the House of Commons when it was revealed that the company partnered with British Telecom to run secret trials of the service. The UK government eventually decided the service would probably be declared illegal unless it was handled on a strict op-in basis. Charter's move is not entirely unlike one taken recently by Earthlink, to begin serving its own ads to customers who try to visit nonexistent domains, a practice that has courted its own share of controversy for its potential for security breaches.
Charter is, predictably, spinning the service as an innocent and innocuous move to provide users with a better experience — as though being bombarded with advertising flashing brighter than Studio 54 has ever enhanced anyone's browsing — but we have a feeling they'll be surprised once the torch-wielding mob shows up. Even more likely to win them a customer revolt is the opt-out nature of the plan, which uses an opt-out cookie that can only be obtained by entering a full name and address; because it is cookie-based, the procedure must be performed for every browser on every computer the customer uses, and would have to be repeated anytime the browser's cookies were cleared. We're no Kreskin, but we predict an interesting road ahead.