Article 43

 

Broadband Privacy

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Monitoring Your Living Room

truth-or-comfort.jpg

Comcast Cameras to Start Watching You?

By Chris Albrecht
New Tee Vee
March 18, 2008

If you have some tinfoil handy, now might be a good time to fashion a hat. At the DIGITAL LIVING ROOM conference today, Gerard Kunkel, COMCAST’S senior VP of user experience, told me the cable company is experimenting with different camera technologies built into devices so it can know whos in your living room.

The idea being that if you turn on your cable box, it recognizes you and pulls up shows already in your profile or makes recommendations. If parents are watching TV with their children, for example, parental controls could appear to block certain content from appearing on the screen. Kunkel also said this type of monitoring is the “holy grail” because it could help serve up specifically tailored ads. Yikes.

Kunkel said the system wouldnt be based on facial recognition, so there wouldn’t be a picture of you on file (we hope). Instead, it would distinguish between different members of your household by recognizing body forms. He stressed that the system is still in the experimental phase, that there hasnt been consumer testing, and that any rollout ғmust add value to the viewing experience beyond serving ads.

Perhaps I’ve seen Enemy of the State too many times, or perhaps Im just naive about the depths to which Comcast currently tracks my every move. I can’t trust Comcast with BitTorrent, so why should I trust them with my must-be-kept-secret, DVR-clogging addiction to Keeping Up with the Kardashians?

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Posted by Elvis on 03/23/08 •
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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Internet Advertising And Deep Packet Inspection Abuse

Watching What You See on the Web - NebuAd’s ‘deep-packet inspection box’ tracks users’ online moves.

New Gear Lets ISPs Track Users and Sell Targeted Ads; More Players, Privacy Fears

By Bobby White
The Wall Street Journal
December 6, 2007

CenturyTel Inc., a Monroe, La., phone company that provides Internet access and long-distance calling services, is facing stiff competition from cellphone companies and cable operators. So to diversify, it’s getting into the online-advertising business.

And not just any online advertising. The technology it’s using could change the way the $16.9 billion Internet ad market works, bringing in a host of new players—and giving consumers fresh concerns about their privacy.

CenturyTel’s system allows it to observe and analyze the online activities of its Internet customers, keeping tabs on every Web site they visit. The equipment is made by a Silicon Valley start-up called NebuAd Inc. and installed right into the phone company’s network. NebuAd takes the information it collects and offers advertisers the chance to place online ads targeted to individual consumers. NebuAd and CenturyTel get paid whenever a consumer clicks on an ad.

This technique—called behavioral targeting—is far more customized than the current method of selling ads online. Today, it’s an imperfect process: companies such as Revenue Science Inc. and Tacoda Inc., which was recently bought by Time Warner Inc., contract with Web sites to monitor which consumers visit them, attaching “cookies,” or small pieces of tracking data, to visitors’ hard drives so they are recognized when they return. The targeting firms feed the data to Web site owners, who use it to charge premium rates for customized ads. But the information is limited, since the tracking companies can’t monitor all of the sites an individual visits.

The newer form of behavioral targeting involves placing gear called “deep-packet inspection boxes” inside an Internet provider’s network of pipes and wires. Instead of observing only a select number of Web sites, these boxes can track all of the sites a consumer visits, and deliver far more detailed information to potential advertisers.

Until now, the booming online ad market has been dominated by the likes of Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. and small techie advertising shops such as Right Media Inc. and AdECN Inc. But new companies are rushing in. Both wireless and wireline Internet-access providers such as CenturyTel, Rochester Telecom Systems Inc. and EMBARQ Communications Inc., among others, have entered the advertising gold rush. And they’ve tapped Internet equipment companies like NebuAd, FrontPorch Inc., and Phorm Inc. to provide the gear to help them along.

The technology does raise privacy issues. The Internet-service providers often know other information about consumers, such as their names, locations and age and income ranges, which can be very valuable to potential advertisers, especially when combined with Web browsing habits. “Some of these [Internet equipment] guys are traveling in dangerous territory,” says Emily Riley, an advertising analyst with Jupiter Research. “Should one company have all of that data in one place? It’s a little troubling.”

The idea of matching online and offline information about individual consumers has raised privacy concerns in the past. Many of the major online ad companies have pledged to abide by voluntary standards put forth by the Network Advertising Initiative, an industry group, which call for members to notify consumers that they are being targeted and give them the chance to opt out.

NebuAd says that it isn’t a member of the group and that the information provided by the ISPs is fairly standard data that they often make available to third parties. FrontPorch also says it believes it isn’t going too far by receiving a small amount of offline user data.

Privacy advocates say transparency is key. “Consumers need to know exactly what is going on and they need to know it at all times,” says John Palfrey, executive director of the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society at Harvard University. “Today they say they are using consumer information for ads, but it could be something completely different tomorrow. The ISPs and the companies they are working with need to share as much information as possible.”

Some Internet providers are reworking their privacy policies to pre-empt concerns. Many give customers online fact sheets informing them of their new behavioral targeting service along, and ask if they want to participate. If they opt out, the consumers’ Internet address is tagged and their Web activity isn’t tracked.

If a consumer doesn’t opt out of the service, the equipment companies say they take steps to shield a consumer’s privacy. NebuAd, for instance, says it doesn’t keep a consumer’s personally identifiable information, but only builds a profile of a consumer’s interests based on the sites a user frequents. The company also doesn’t track traffic to sites related to sex, health or politics.

Internet access providers say they take the privacy concerns seriously. “Privacy is a huge issue that you must get right,” says Dan Toomey, chief executive of Anacapa Holdings Ltd., a Dublin, Ireland-based company that provides wireless Internet access. “One mistake could spell big trouble.” Anacapa, which began using FrontPorch’s equipment in September, operates 2,400 wireless Internet networks at hotels and coffee shops in 18 countries in Europe. The company allows consumers to use their wireless Internet service for free in exchange for viewing ads.

The use of the new networking gear to observe online behavior—while currently nascent—is growing. Zachary Britton, FrontPorch’s chief executive, says his company’s advertising business generated $15 million in the first nine months of the year, up 187% from the year-earlier period. The company has signed up 202 new customers for its deep packet inspection boxes this year. Meanwhile, NebuAd is expecting revenue of $100 million in 2008 based on sales of its advertising equipment. NebuAd Chief Executive Bob Dykes says the company has signed up more than 30 new customers, mostly Internet access providers, since it started.

For CenturyTel, the new business has already turned into a healthy sideline. The company estimates it will see a 5% to 10% boost in average revenue per user for its high-speed Internet business, with extra revenue totaling around $2 million a quarter. “We need new revenue streams to survive,” says Chris Mangum, vice president of strategic planning of CenturyTel, which notifies its consumers of the behavioral targeting in an online fact sheet and allows them to opt out.

Having been initially skeptical, Mr. Mangum says, “We’re now comfortable with how we approach this,” says Mr. Mangum. CenturyTel says it’s too early to tell what percentage of customers have opted out.

SOURCE

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Dear ISP, I am not a target market

By Chris Williams
The Reghister
March 10, 2008

Comment Chapter four of Generation X, Douglas Coupland’s seminal 1990 eulogy to post-war optimism, bears the winning title “I am not a target market”.

We’ve been constantly reminded of that romantic, seemingly futile protest against corporate society in the last two weeks. Coupland’s trio of Arizona drop-outs would surely be amused by the intensifying storm over news that BT, Virgin Media and Carphone Warehouse, UK’s three biggest ISPs, plan to pimp out their ten million customers for advertisers to target via Phorm.

The young firm’s crisis management flacks, contracted from PR outfit Citigate Dewe Rogerson, are busily working the line that there’s been some kind of technical misunderstanding and that Phorm is being unfairly demonised for it. If only people took the time to investigate their technology - “kick the tyres” is easily Kent Ertegrul’s favourite phrase - then they would see its emergence as positive, or at least neutral, they reckon.

Put simply, DO. NOT. WANT.

They’re wrong. Reg readers don’t think Phorm is run by “evil” people and do understand the technology. They still want ISPs to have nothing to do with it.

No amount of anonymising, expensive auditing and dialogue with Privacy International changes the fact that Phorm’s business model is straight from the pages of Orwell. By definition it will erode the amount of control people have over their lives online and and put power in the hands of businessmen nobody ever signed a contract with.

Utopians have been preaching for a decade and more about the great democratising force unleashed by the web and other net technologies. The readiness of our three biggest gatekeepers to use those technologies to sell us out should serve as the clearest demonstration yet that online, power can be stolen just as quickly and in an even more revolutionary way than when it was handed out.

We’ve all seen this movie before, writ large: you can easily think of the happy-clappy revolution of the web’s first ten years as a mainstream medium as its own version of the 1960s. If you do that, then the emergence of Phorm and the reaction to it is a signal the come-down is taking hold. Tracked and exploited, web users are entering the fear and loathing of the 1970s.

BT, Virgin Media and Carphone Warehouse tell us that the internet will be “more relevant” thanks to ads targeted on the content of every page we visit. That’s classic misdirection. The ISPs are claiming they’re doing us all a favour by solving a problem that doesn’t exist in any mind but that of a marketeer. At best it’s patronising and cowardly.

It’s cowardly because rather than tackle the problems they are having growing their own business, the bosses of these companies have let jealousy of Google’s business get the better of them. The margin squeeze in UK internet provision was in part created by ISP marketing men and their “free” broadband offers. Pimping out their customers is the same marketing men’s anti-customer solution to the tough market conditions they created.

The “problem” in their eyes is that like all utilities, broadband is a commodity now - prices are low, margins are lower. Google has built itself a high margin monopoly, and despite a recent hiccup in its astronomical share price, it’s Wall Street’s golden child. Shareholders in broadband providers long for the days when their investments were growing rapidly, and the bosses the money men hold power over know it.

Ironically, the company Phorm and the ISPs are seeking to emulate is well placed to become their most powerful enemy. Google has amassed significant lobbying muscle in Washington DC. Indeed, ambitious UK politicians like Labour’s Milibands and the Tories’ George Osborne and David Cameron line up to brown-nose the Googleplex. And if you had spent billions to acquire and serve people’s web searches, would you be happy that other companies are planning to hijack them direct from HTTP streams and pump them into their own ad targeting network? Thought not.

It’s depressingly inevitable that UK ISPs have become the first to leap into bed with Phorm - note it’s NOT THE ONLY FIRM attempting to create a new market in pimped data. Blighty is already the most tracked and intruded upon nation on the planet; the government’s own data WATCHDOG HAS WARNED against sleepwalking into a surveillance society.

He’s right. Some things should just not be for sale, no matter what assurances are on offer or who they come from. Regardless of how the data is acquired and processed, and despite the powerful ISP friends Phorm has made since the PeopleOnPage days, spyware is spyware.

So if they’re sat in their big chairs googling themselves today, BEN VEERWAAYEN, NEIL BERKETT and CHARLES DUNSTONE should hear this. What you are doing is unethical and sets a dangerous precedent. It is flat wrong. The whole wheeze is predicated on arrogance and the lamentably correct assumption that most people will just swallow the anti-phishing marketing when the Webwise opt-in page pops up. You CONSPIRED IN SECRET to foist this on the public, and if given the facts they do not want it - ever. Not for themselves nor for the less technically-savvy people you’re planning to trick.

SOURCE

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Every Click You Make
Internet Providers Quietly Test Expanded Tracking of Web Use to Target Advertising

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post
April 4, 2008

The online behavior of a small but growing number of computer users in the United States is monitored by their Internet service providers, who have access to every click and keystroke that comes down the line.

The companies harvest the stream of data for clues to a person’s interests, making money from advertisers who use the information to target their online pitches.

The practice represents a significant expansion in the ability to track a household’s Web use because it taps into Internet connections, and critics liken it to a phone company listening in on conversations. But the companies involved say customers’ privacy is protected because no personally identifying details are released.

The extent of the practice is difficult to gauge because some service providers involved have declined to discuss their practices. Many Web surfers, moreover, probably have little idea they are being monitored.

But at least 100,000 U.S. customers are tracked this way, and service providers have been testing it with as many as 10 percent of U.S. customers, according to tech companies involved in the data collection.

Although common tracking systems, known as cookies, have counted a consumer’s visits to a network of sites, the new monitoring, known as “deep-packet inspection,” enables a far wider view—every Web page visited, every e-mail sent and every search entered. Every bit of data is divided into packets—like electronic envelopes—that the system can access and analyze for content.

“You don’t want the phone company tapping your phone calls, and in the same way you don’t want your ISP tapping your Web traffic,” said Ari Schwartz of the Center for Democracy and Technology, an advocacy group. “There’s a fear here that a user’s ISP is going to betray them and turn their information over to a third party.”

In fact, newly proposed Federal Trade Commission guidelines for behavioral advertising have been outpaced by the technology and do not address the practice directly. Privacy advocates are preparing to present to Congress their concerns that the practice is done without consumer consent and that too little is known about whether such systems adequately protect personal information.

Meanwhile, many online publishers say the next big growth in advertising will emerge from efforts to offer ads based not on the content of a Web page, but on knowing who is looking at it. That, of course, means gathering more information about consumers.

Advocates of deep-packet inspection see it as a boon for all involved. Advertisers can better target their pitches. Consumers will see more relevant ads. Service providers who hand over consumer data can share in advertising revenues. And Web sites can make more money from online advertising, a $20 billion industry that is growing rapidly.

With the service provider involved in collecting consumer data, “there is access to a broader spectrum of the Web traffic—it’s significantly more valuable,” said Derek Maxson, chief technology officer of Front Porch, a company that collects such data from millions of users in Asia and is working with a number of U.S. service providers.

Consider, say, the Boston Celtics Web site. Based on its content, it posts ads for products a Celtics fan might be interested in: Adidas, a Boston hotel and so on.

With information about users from deep-packet inspection, however, advertisers might learn that the person looking at the Celtics Web site is also a potential car customer because he recently visited the Ford site and searched in Google for “best minivans.” That means car companies might be interested in sending an ad to that user at the Celtics site, too.

For all its promise, however, the service providers exploring and testing such services have largely kept quiet—“for fear of customer revolt,” according to one executive involved.

It is only through the companies that design the data collection systems—companies such as NebuAd, Phorm and Front Porch—that it is possible to gauge the technology’s spread. Front Porch collects detailed Web-use data from more than 100,000 U.S. customers through their service providers, Maxson said. NebuAd has agreements with providers covering 10 percent of U.S. broadband customers, chief executive Bob Dykes said.

In England, Phorm is expected in the coming weeks to launch its monitoring service with BT, Britain’s largest Internet broadband provider.

NebuAd and Front Porch declined to name the U.S. service providers they are working with, saying it’s up to the providers to announce how they deal with consumer data.

Some service providers, such as Embarq and Wide Open West, or WOW, have altered their customer-service agreements to permit the monitoring.

Embarq describes the monitoring as a “preference advertising service.” Wide Open West tells customers it is working with a third-party advertising network and names NebuAd as its partner.

Officials at WOW and Embarq declined to talk about any monitoring that has been done.

Each company allows users to opt out of the monitoring, though that permission is buried in customer service documents. The opt-out systems work by planting a “cookie,” or a small file left on a user’s computer. Each uses a cookiecreated by NebuAd.

Officials at another service provider, Knology, said it was working with NebuAd and is conducting a test of deep-packet inspection on “several hundred” customers in a service area it declined to identify.

“I don’t view it as violating any privacy data at all,” said Anthony Palermo, vice present of marketing at Knology. “My understanding is that all these companies go through great pains to hash out information that is specific to the consumer.”

One central issue, of course, is how well the companies protect consumer data.

NebuAd promises to protect users’ privacy in a couple of ways.

First, every user in the NebuAd system is identified by a number that the company assigns rather than an Internet address, which in theory could be traced to a person. The number NebuAd assigns cannot be tracked to a specific address. That way, if the company’s data is stolen or leaked, no one could identify customers or the Web sites they’ve visited, Dykes said.

Nor does NebuAd record a user’s visits to pornography or gaming sites or a user’s interests in sensitive subjects—such as bankruptcy or a medical condition such as AIDS. The company said it processes but does not look into packets of information that include e-mail or pictures.

What it does do is categorize users into dozens of targeted consumer types, such as a potential car buyer or someone interested in digital cameras.

Dykes noted that by a couple of measures, their system may protect privacy more than such well-known companies as Google. Google stores a user’s Internet address along with the searches made from that address. And while Google’s mail system processes e-mail and serves ads based on keywords it finds in their text, NebuAd handles e-mail packets but does not look to them for advertising leads.

Such privacy measures aside, however, consumer advocates questioned whether monitored users are properly informed about the practice.

Knology customers, for example, cull the company’s 27-page customer service agreement or its terms and condition for service to find a vague reference to its tracking system.

“They’re buried in agreements—who reads them?” said David Hallerman, a senior analyst at eMarketer. “The industry is setting itself up by not being totally transparent. . . . The perception is you’re being tracked and targeted.”

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 03/11/08 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
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Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008

phantomaccess.jpg

By tkarr
Save The Internet
February 12, 2008

Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Chip Pickering (R-Miss.) today launched the latest salvo in the struggle to keep the Internet free from GATEKEEPERS with the introduction of the “Internet Freedom Preservation Act of 2008” - HR 5353.

The bipartisan bill protects Net Neutrality under the Communications Act and calls for a nationwide conversation to set policy about the future of the Internet.

The legislation gives hope to the millions of Americans who have called for action to ensure that the public not phone and cable companies - control the fate of the Internet.

Taking it Public

The new bill calls on the FCC to convene at least eight broadband summits to collect public input on a variety of policies that will promote openness, competition, innovation, and affordable, ubiquitous broadband service for all individuals in the United States.

Taking the issue outside the Beltway and beyond the corrosive influence of telecom lobbyists - is an ENCOURAGING SIGN for communities across the country that stand to benefit from the enormous economic and social benefits of an open Internet.

Big phone and cable companies like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Time Warner have padded the pockets of Washington LAWYERS, LOBBYISTS and SHILLS to kill Net Neutrality and pave the way for NETWORK MANAGEMENT practices that allow blocking of certain content in favor of Web sites and services the companies prefer.

Barring Discrimination

The new bill makes it the policy of the US government to actively protect the free-flowing Internet from gatekeepers, establishing principles for consumer protections that guard against unreasonable discriminatory favoritism for, or degradation of, content by network operators based upon its source, ownership, or destination on the Internet.Ӕ

These protections would be amended into the Communications Act, according to the new legislation.

The FCC recently launched AN INVESTIGATION - spurred by a complaint from members of the SavetheInternet.com Coalition and thousands of letters from concerned citizens into blocking of Internet services by cable and phone companies.

A Growing Coalition

“Americans need to ask themselves: What good is free speech if a handful of powerful corporations have the ability to SHUT OFF or slow viewpoints they find objectionable?” said INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS General President Jim Hoffa. “I applaud Congressman Markey and encourage other union members to stand with the 1.4 million-member strong International Brotherhood of Teamsters.”

“Gamers, the majority of whom are in the coveted 18-45 demographic, increasingly use the Internet to communicate, mobilize and play the increasingly complex games they enjoy,” said Hal Halpin, president of the ENTERTAINMENT CONSUMERS ASSOSCIATION (ECA), a national nonprofit membership organization established to serve the needs of the millions of Americans who play computer and video games. “We look forward to participating in the discussion fostered by this important legislation.”

Markey and Pickering’s bill will reignite the grassroots campaign to restore meaningful and lasting Net Neutrality protections. Access to an open Internet connection is no longer a luxury; its a right that should be afforded every American.

The public now has a new chance to SPEAK OUT against would-be gatekeepers that seek to distort the Internet in their favor.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 03/04/08 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
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Monday, February 25, 2008

Kiss The Fourth Amendment Good Bye - Part 4

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White House says phone wiretaps back on “for now”

Reuters
February 23, 2008

The Bush administration said on Saturday U.S. telecommunications companies have agreed to cooperate “for the time being” with spy agencies’ wiretaps, despite an ongoing battle between the White House and Congress over new terrorism surveillance legislation.

The Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence issued a joint statement saying wiretaps will resume under the current law “at least for now.”

“Although our private partners are cooperating for the time being, they have expressed understandable misgivings about doing so in light of the ongoing uncertainty and have indicated they may well discontinue cooperation if the uncertainty persists,” the statement said.

On Friday U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey and Director of National Intelligence Michael McConnell said telecommunications firms have been RELUCTANT TO COOPERATE with new wiretaps since six-month temporary legislation expired last weekend. As a result, they told Congress, spy agencies have missed intelligence.

Democrats accused the Bush administration of fear-mongering and blamed it for any gaps.

President George W. Bush has said he would not compromise with the Democratic-led Congress on his demand that phone companies be shielded from lawsuits for taking part in his warrantless domestic spying program.

The measure passed by the Senate would provide retroactive lawsuit immunity to firms which cooperated with warrantless wiretaps that Bush authorized after the September 11 attacks. But the House of Representatives has opposed it, and Democratic leaders of both chambers said they would try to find a compromise.

Democratic leaders of congressional intelligence and judiciary committees issued a statement on Friday saying they were committed to passing new legislation and urged Bush to support an extension of the temporary law. Bush has said he would hold out for a permanent overhaul of the 1978 surveillance law.

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Posted by Elvis on 02/25/08 •
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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Comcast Abuse Of Net Neutrality

FCC to Probe Comcast Data Discrimination

By Peter Svensson
Associated Press
January 8, 2008

LAS VEGAS (AP) The Federal Communications Commission will investigate complaints that Comcast Corp. actively interferes with Internet traffic as its subscribers try to share files online, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin said Tuesday.

A coalition of consumer groups and legal scholars asked the agency in November to stop Comcast from discriminating against certain types of data. Two groups also asked the FCC to fine the nation’s No. 2 Internet provider $195,000 for every affected subscriber.

“Sure, we’re going to investigate and make sure that no consumer is going to be blocked,” Martin told an audience at the International Consumer Electronics Show.

In an investigation last year, The Associated Press found that Comcast in some cases hindered file sharing by subscribers who used BitTorrent, a popular file-sharing program. The findings, first reported Oct. 19, confirmed claims by users who also noticed interference with other file-sharing applications.

Comcast denies that it blocks file sharing, but acknowledged after the AP story that it was “delaying" some of the traffic between computers that share files. The company said the intervention was necessary to improve the surfing experience for the majority of its subscribers.

Peer-to-peer file sharing is a common way to illegally exchange copyright files, but companies are also rushing to utilize it for legal distribution of video and game content. If ISPs hinder or control that traffic, it makes them important gatekeepers of Internet content.

The FCC’s response will be an important test of its willingness to enforce “Net Neutrality,” the principle that Internet traffic be treated equally by carriers. The agency has a broadly stated policy supporting the concept, but its position hasn’t been tested in a real-world case.

The FCC’s policy statement makes an exception for “reasonable traffic management.” Comcast has said its practices fall under that exception.

“The question is going to arise: Are they reasonable network practices?” Martin said Tuesday. “When they have reasonable network practices, they should disclose those and make those public.”

Comcast subscribers who asked the company about interference on their connections before the AP story ran were met with flat denials.

A Comcast spokesman did not have an immediate comment.

Martin also said the commission was looking at complaints that wireless carriers denied text-messaging “short codes” to some applicants. The five-digit numbers are a popular way to sign up for updates on everything from sports to politics to entertainment news.

Verizon Wireless in late September DENIED A REQUEST by Naral Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group, to use its mobile network for a sign-up text messaging program.

The company reversed course just a day later, calling it a mistake and an “isolated incident.”

Verizon Wireless has also denied a short code to a Swedish company, Rebtel Networks AB, that operates a service similar to a virtual calling card, allowing users to avoid paying the carrier’s international rates on their cell-phone calls. Verizon Wireless has stuck to that denial, saying it does want to provide an advertising venue to a competitor.

“I tell the staff that they should act on all of those complaints and investigate all of them,” Martin said.

SOURCE

EFF’S COMCAST REPORTS

Posted by Elvis on 01/08/08 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy • Section Dying America
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