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20 Comments

news

Dr. Frankenweb’s Monster

googlerogers_10Dec07.jpg
Google has always been known for its clean, lightweight, ad-free search page, but Canada’s largest provider of broadband internet is under fire today for messing with it. Toronto-based Rogers has begun testing a controversial technique that allows the media empire to insert its own content into another entity’s web page, angering net neutrality proponents.
According to a tip passed to L.A.-based technology expert Lauren Weinstein, the system being employed is manufactured by the “in-browser marketing” firm PerfTech. So far, Rogers is experimenting with the deep packet inspection process only to insert account status messages at the top of web pages like Google.ca, but it is easy to see how such a technique could be revamped to provide additional advertising to customers.
The tactic may be too much of a temptation for the media giant to pass up—with additional cable and wireless services to promote, as well as a lucrative existing online partnership with Yahoo!, the pushed ad idea has likely already been floated in Rogers’ boardrooms. The problem is that the technology highjacks another company’s web pages without permission.
Rogers says that a customer is already able to opt-out of receiving automatic status messages, and they’re testing customer response to this latest approach. The status message that has been appearing at the top of some customers’ pages warns when they are reaching their monthly bandwidth allotment and that they might encounter overage charges (Rogers, like Bell, admits that they employ “traffic shaping” to throttle bandwidth used by file sharing applications, and the company charges $1.50 per gigabyte overage, to a monthly maximum of $50).
“Will Web service providers such as Google and many others, who have spent vast resources in both talent and treasure creating and maintaining their services’ appearances and quality, be willing to stand still while any ISP intercepts and modifies their traffic in such a manner?” asks Weinstein. The tech pundit is the co-founder of People for Internet Responsibility, which aims to reveal discriminatory activity implemented by legislators and ISPs.
With no official policy on in-browser marketing, Rogers is treading a fine line by inserting what they deem as a friendly account reminder on top of someone else’s carefully cultivated property. Equipped with the kind of personal customer data that is extremely valuable to advertisers and the ability to theoretically target each one directly, one might worry where this is going.
Screenshot via Lauren Weinstein.

Comments

  • Miles Storey

    Intrusive concerns (disgusting as this method is) aside how does Rogers know who is viewing the message?! Asking you to click to acknowledge receipt of the message suggests that whoever does the clicking should be the account holder when it could easily be family members, house mates, the guy downstairs leeching off your wireless, etc.
    It’s wrong and reckless on every level.

  • spacejack

    Hands in my packets hands in my packets hands in my packets. What’s in your packet?

  • rek

    I’m definitely never going back to Rogers ever again. ‘Account status’ inserts are just a testing stage for ads, of course, and when that inevitably happens you can be sure it won’t change your monthly bill. But what about Google, for example? It’s their web site, why should their content be aiding in revenue generation for Rogers without a formal agreement of that nature? If I had a site and found out someone was inserting ads without my permission and without a cent going to me, I’d be pissed.

  • Marc Lostracco

    Something I find interesting about the rates is that the Extreme plan at $53/month has 8 Mbps download and a 100 GB limit, whereas Extreme Plus at $100/month has up to 18 Mbps download, but a 90 GB limit. So, nice and fast, but double the price and for less data. Whaa?
    Plus, they throttle peer-to-peer/torrent traffic, so what, exactly, is the advantage for Extreme Plus, which Rogers bills as great for “downloading large files” and “video streaming,” and can rack up $150 per month if over the data limit?

  • Diisparishun

    Remember free ISPs? Think NetZero.

  • Val Dodge

    I bet the brains at Rogers kick themselves every day for not imposing an “Internet Access Fee” of $6.95/month when they first launched Rogers Wave. Now they have to find a way to make up all that lost revenue. If only people had been paying the access fee all along, Rogers wouldn’t be in this position.

  • rek

    Ontario and Toronto are overflowing with ISPs other than Bell and Rogers: http://www.canadianisp.com/cgi-bin/ispsearch.cgi?f=Search&p=ON
    I’ll be switching to one of these smaller, less restrictive ISPs in the new year.

  • jvdual

    I received a similar message from QWEST (my ISP) after hitting 750 GB one month. They asked me to drop my usage by 30%. Now, I keep it around 450 GB per month and they seem happy. My monthly charge is about $50 (USD) per month.

  • Marc Lostracco

    750 GB? Ay yi yi…
    I don’t particularly think 100 GB is that horrible of a limit, since I’m assuming that most customers don’t even come near that every month. Still, $53 for usable broadband ain’t cheap.
    I think instead of hijacking web pages to tell you about your account status (since, I guess, email apparently doesn’t work), Rogers should create a non-intrusive menubar widget or something that keeps a tally of your bandwidth consumption. The problem is that they despise admitting to things like this or even acknowledging traffic shaping…perhaps if they were more up-front and explanatory, people would be more forgiving.

  • mathx

    Pretty simple solution. Use HTTPS for everything. If this becomes common, all webpages will go HTTPS.
    I’m sure google will be the first major site to offer this, they have the computing power for it.

  • Doggiez

    Underhanded tactics are nothing new from good old Rogers. Last week, I had to send them a nasty letter about the “past due” notices I keep receiving from them. The problem is, Rogers does not send their (physical) bills with any frequency, so they want to collect for bills I never received. When I asked customer support why Rogers’ bills don’t arrive on time (if at all), they said “Ask Canada Post.” I said Bell Canada, Enbridge, and others can send their bills on time, so why can’t Big Red? Needless to say, a copy of my complaint went to the CRTC.
    Does anyone else out there have a problem with Rogers and their billing department?! Is this some scheme to get rid of bills they have to physically mail, and force subscribers to get their bills electronically, saving the company big bucks in the process?

  • Marc Lostracco

    Personally, I think paperless billing is generally a good thing, but I called recently and asked that my office phone and mobile phone be consolidated onto one bill—an option that Rogers promotes—but then I was told that I would still have to continue receiving a bill for each, because my office line was still on the old Sprint system (Rogers acquired Sprint in 2005) and they used different billing processes.
    I’ve also not received Rogers bills from time to time, but when I called to ask about it, I was told that it was still my responsibility to pay the charges on time (which I understand, but it’s not really something you think about until you get the bill).

  • Ben

    Doggiez, Rogers has the worst billing department I’ve ever seen. I would never go near them.
    This 100 GB limit is insane. The limit should be the number of bits you can download in a month.
    If my ISP ever did this to me, they would lose me as a customer right away.

  • Doggiez

    Re: Rogers billing. One crucial thing I neglected to mention. If you pay your Rogers bill through a bank machine, double-check that the account number registered with your ATM is the same as the account nunber on your actual bill. When me and the wife recently added Rogers home phone to our existing Internet and cable, the consolidated account number changed. Rogers didn’t inform the bank of the new number (mind you, I don’t know if they’re supposed to), but it is possible to pay a Rogers bill at an ATM into the wrong account.

  • Marc Lostracco

    Something that is so irritating is that if I type in “yahoo” (which is rarely) into my browser, rather than take me to the default Yahoo search page, it takes me to a different page advertising Rogers “hi-speed” [sic] internet (um, aren’t I already using it?), where I have to click an additional link to go to the proper Yahoo.
    Since I am signed-in with my Flickr account (owned by Yahoo), the interstitial page also helpfully informs me that not only am I “already signed in to Yahoo!” but that I should be signed in with my Rogers ID, and asks if I’m aware that I “can get [my] Internet connection through Rogers Yahoo! Hi-Speed Internet.”
    YES, I am aware, and was aware the first and second and twentieth time you asked. Am I allowed to go to Yahoo now? Please?

  • The Explosively Talented Christopher Bird

    I’m using Bell, and honestly, the problems are minimal. The occasional slow service period, to be sure, but I understand the concept of peak service hours, and whenever we complain about an outage they comp us for the time with absolutely no hassle.

  • brokenengine

    Doggiez, I work in Accounts Receivable at Rogers. Your comments are frustrating, but I’ll try to be educational.
    1) If we have the correct address on file, the bill goes to that address. Every month. Trust me on this. If you don’t get it, we can’t be faulted for that. Thats why you get the “Ask Canada Post” routine, because that literally is the only answer we can give you. And then we suggest you go to e-billing or pre-authorized payment. I can understand your frustration, but the other thing is, we don’t know you’re not getting the bill. If you get the reminder notice, there’s no reason you wouldn’t get your bill, unless there’s some issue with the delivery. Occasionally(and this is VERY rarely), there is an issue with a delay in billing or when a whole batch of bills don’t go out. In that situation, a letter goes out to tell our customers about the delay, and a new bill is sent with adjusted amounts, and no late fees.
    2) Re: Rogers Home Phone: Those old sprint number were originally handled on an old(and now obsolete) billing system. We are in the process of moving them all over to our most recent billing system, and thats why a consolidated account will have a new account number. However, there was a letter that went to all customers to inform them of a change in account number prior to their account number changing. Plus, you should always look at your bill thouroghly.
    3) I had no idea about this warning at the top of websites thing, its news to me, but I’m not in the dept that would handle that. HOWEVER, I do see it as a good thing on one hand, because I usually have to deal with customers that call in and say “How was I supposed to know I went over my minutes/text messages/GB’s/etc.” So, now people won’t have any grounds to complain about it.
    And yeah, 100gb for the average user is WAY more than enough.

  • rek

    It turns out my new apartment is already hooked up with Tek Savvy. Unlimited/no cap 5MB connection funtimes! Here’s their profile at Canadian ISP.
    I’ll see how it goes for a month or two and if there are any problems, switch to another non-Bell/Rogers provider.

  • Doggiez

    An update to my earlier post about not receiving bills from Rogers on time. Since I sent Rogers’ “Formal Complaints” department an exceedinly nasty (and entirely accurate) letter about their shoddy billing practices, I actually received my January bill on time! Huzzah! I haven’t received a reply from their compaints people, but its still too early for that.
    And Brokenengine, I appreciate your comments. Believe me, my ax to grind with Rogers isn’t just as a customer, it’s as a former employee who frequently dealt with Rogers’ accounting. I handled dozens of accounts, all the way from the biggest publishers to tiny mom and pop pizza restaurants. These little shops were forced to get a Dun & Bradstreet number, or Rogers wouldn’t pay them whenever we ordered food on One Mount Pleasant. Try to imagine explaining to Pizzaiolo, Mama’s Pizza or Massimo that they needed to have a D&B number, or they wouldn’t get paid. That was the “logic” of Rogers accounting: forcing a tiny Toronto restaurant to get a number from an American credit firm!

  • Doggiez

    After I sent my complaint letter to Rogers, I’ve received two bills on time. The system works.