Friday, November 14, 2008

Bresnan Sued in Nebuad Fiasco

In a follow-up to posts I wrote this past June and July, several news sources, including the excellent Threat Level blog at Wired magazine, report that NebuAd, the company that developed some questionable web-use monitoring products, is being sued for allegedly violating privacy and hacking laws. Also being sued are the ISPs that tested the product without the knowledge or consent of their subscribers. This includes two telecom companies with a presence in Mesa County.

Bresnan Communications, Grand Junction's sole Cable TV provider, along with CenturyTel, which provides local telephone service to the Collbran and Mesa areas, were among several ISPs sued along with NebuAd by 15 end users, who are requesting class action status on behalf of all subscribers to the Internet service of the providers named in the suit.

According to a copy of the complaint, NebuAd worked with the ISPs to test a device using a technology called Deep Packet Inspection to monitor the Internet traffic of users, and use that data to select and send targeted advertising to those users when they surf the web.
For example, an Internet user doing a search on City Council member Doug Thomason may be targeted with embedded online ads for anger management training. ;-)

All of the involved ISPs stopped their testing around June in response to public outcry and congressional scrutiny.

The plaintiffs claim, among other things, that this practice violates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and several other federal and state statutes. They are asking for up to $5 Million in damages.
NebuAd's CEO resigned in September.

Bresnan and CenturyTel, according to their own admission, tested the NebuAd technology in portions of small markets in Montana. That could still make for a pretty substantial group of plaintiffs if the court grants them class action status.

I contacted
Bresnan Vice President of Public Affairs Shawn Beqaj (pronounced buh-KAI) today requesting comment about the suit. He stated that they have yet to be served, and declined to comment on pending litigation. I didn't attempt to call CenturyTel. It's unclear if Internet services are even available through them in Collbran and Mesa.

While there doesn't appear to be a chance of Grand Junction area subscribers being included in the class, I will keep an eye on developments in the case and post anything significant.

This is proof that not only are there insidious attempts to capture what you do online in an attempt to profit from it, but there are also serious civil liberties issues involved. Luckily, there are legal remedies in this country that will hopefully serve to protect citizens from online eavesdropping and monitoring in the future.

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