In his intervew to BBC, Tim Berners Lee (creator WWW) explains his position on the plans by ISPs to track online user behaviour.
Q. A lot of companies are now trying to get a lot of data about their users which they can then market on to advertisers. Do you have a view?
Different people have different attitudes. I myself feel that it is very important that my ISP supplies internet to my house like the water company supplies water to my house. It supplies connectivity with no strings attached. My ISP doesn’t control which websites I go to, it doesn’t monitor which websites I go to.
Many of the major ISPs around world are toying with the idea of tracking the online behaviour their customers. Basically the tracking program will look at the sites visited by users. This online profile is worth a lot of money and a lot of advertising groups will be interested in this data. Currently search engines such as Google and other Web services have this type of data. But even google doesn’t have the clickstream data as it doesn’t monitor which links we click on the results!
One major problem with the ISP tracking is the problem of privacy and security. Currently the online advertising company Phorm is behind the UK ISP (BT, Virgin and Talk Talk) partnership for intercepting web surfing habits. In past Phorm was involved in the adware and spyware business. These guys may even get hold of userid/password for your various accounts including bank accounts! How scary is that?
This online profiling seems to be a big step towards content filtering and things are only going to get worse. In future, you we may even see ISPs pushing advertising to the end users by manipulating the content returned to the user.
This is a dangerous trend and I sure hope that ISPs and Phorm are not going to get away with this. If not, this will be quickly adopted by all the ISPs. There is too much money to be made!
The only way to fight this is to boycott all the ISPs participating in this. If you don’t have an alternate ISP, opt out from this service (It appears that ISPs in UK cannot force this on you unless you give explicit permission!)