For Sale: Your Browser History

Behavioral ad targeting, Web companies’ favorite new way to invade your privacy.In May, Charter Communications, one of the nation’s largest Internet service providers, sent letters to hundreds of thousands of its customers promising “an enhancement coming soon to your Web browsing experience.” This was a heroic bit of corporate doublespeak — Charter planned to “enhance” its service by installing software on its Internet lines to scrutinize its customers’ browsing habits. The company’s aim: to sell lucrative ads tailored to users’ interests. For instance, if Charter saw that you’d been reading lots of auto reviews, it might show you spots for new cars. The company described the plan as a benefit for users. “You will not see more ads — just ads that are more relevant to you,” it said.Charter’s proposal drew an immediate outcry from customers and privacy watchdogs. In June, the company announced that it would suspend its traffic-monitoring plan. Charter’s effort also sparked a wide-ranging congressional inquiry into how Internet companies are profiling users for marketing purposes. Congress has turned up an unsurprising trend: Charter is far from the only company that wants to collect and analyze your surfing habits.

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