Re: Massive Tracking of Web Users Planned -- Via ISPs!

From David Cassel <>
Date Fri, 21 Apr 2000 00:05:23 -0400 (EDT)

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> Picture a world where information about your every move on the Web,
> including the sites that you visit, the keywords that you enter into
> search engines, and so on, are all shipped off to a third party, with
> the willing cooperation of your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

AOL does that now.  They keep a jumbo database of where everyone's gone--
using this same "silhouette" method to give subscribers a supposed blind.
(Presumably that includes what web sites you visit.)  AOL is even on
record as saying the ads you see are demographically targetted based on
where you've been on the service.  

AOL also combines the information they have with information they've
gleaned from other private mailing lists, so they can target the ads more
specifically.  (The revenues from this are a big chunk of AOL's profits
now.  There's ads on all 22 million subscriber mailboxes, every chat room,
subscriber member profiles, and even the status bars for downloads..)

AOL can already monitor nearly 50% of the total traffic on the web.  Now
that they own CompServe -- not to mention Netscape, and ICQ -- a
significant portion of time spent online is also passing through AOL's
servers.  And AOL has a spotty record of respecting user privacy.
(Remember a few years back when they wanted to hand-over everybody's home
phone number to telemarketers?)

Imagine if they combined all the information they have -- from the
subscribers to Time-Warner's cable systems, the readers of Sports
Illustrated, the users of AOL's system, the phone numbers dialing
777-FILM.  (All of which they own.)  Also, it's important to note that
currently AOL doesn't offer any opt-out option -- except a token block on
the first round of pop-up ads you see when you first sign on.  And AOL
throws away your Opt-Out request after only one year.

Maybe we should be talking to our Congressmen about the privacy threat of
AOL's proposed Time-Warner merger.

David Cassel
   The AOL Watch Newsletter

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