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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.

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