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September 14, 2008

Charter Communications: The End of Web Privacy

by Anthony Verre

New Era of Transparency: Goodbye Web Privacy

Search Engine Roundtable posted a very interesting article today about ISP (internet service provider) Charter Communications “deep packet technology”. And an interesting discussion popped up on Webmaster World on the subject as well, which I strongly suggest anyone using Charter Communications read immediately.

Here’s is some choice language from the “memo” on Charter’s site:

How does this service actually work?

It uses completely anonymous information and, based on your surfing and search activity on the Internet, it infers your interests in certain product or service categories, such as automobiles/sports cars, fashion/handbags, or travel/Europe, and so forth.

The enhanced service we are bringing to you was created with your privacy in mind and was designed to collect and store only anonymous information that cannot be used by anyone to identify you. The original data on which your online activity is based – such as historical logs of web pages visited, search queries used, and ads clicked on by an individual – is not stored [but is used in some fashion].

So here’s the $64,000 question: Does Charter’s behavior matter?

Inherently, one would think that it does matter. Further, one would assert that what I do in the privacy of my home (even though the activity interjects me into a global sphere of contact) should stay in my home.

Truthfully, it doesn’t matter. Perhaps, I’ve been in the SEM/SEO game too long, not to mention my extensive military career where private information is a luxury, that I’m nearly immune to it. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is where the web, the world is headed, complete transparency. Once again, as I mentioned before, there are no more secrets. Information is a stream-of-consciousness now; all one has to do is stick their hand out and grab it.

Google’s been collecting anonymous data on users for years and years, through the PageRank toolbar, Google Desktop, Google Talk, and other wonderful applications. Their universal search is just the beginning; they’ve already discussed behaviorally targeted Pay-per-Click. Let’s not forget about Yahoo! and Microsoft as well. They’ve been gathering the same data. And, once again, I haven’t heard an uproar from the web community over this.

I hate to dip my toes into the psychology of an SEO, but perhaps it’s because we are SEOs that we find this an egregious offense. We live in the non-private world all day; in fact, our jobs is to de-privatize information so it can be found and used by consumers to build brand awareness, brand loyalty, and revenue. Why is Charter’s behavior any different from our own?

Just a little thought to rest your head on tonight.


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