Not getting privacy in 2008…

February 19th, 2008

Last year I asked: “Can we still get some privacy in 2008?“. At the time I was mainly thinking of all the web 2.0 sharing options that appeared not so optional, and human error that accidentally got people’s personal information out on the street. Of course, human error will never cease to exist, but at least I have control over which web 2.0 communities I join. So I should be reasonably fine, right? (well, except for that FBI plan to store our biometric info of course)

Today I read that three major UK ISPs are planning to give away your surfing habits. Unfortunately, you can’t surf the internet without using an ISP’s services, so basically, we’re stuck. The reason they have to share our surfing information with a 3rd company, is so they can force-feed us targeted ads, next to the websites we see, or even in them.

As both a web author and a user, I feel this is invading my privacy on both sides. First of all, my website does not have any ads. Now, when BT users surf to my site, they will be served ads with it? Not what I want! And then, more importantly, when I surf to a site about hamsters, the ISP records that and tells a 3rd party I went there, so they can serve me hamster ads next time I go anywhere on the web. Or worse, the next day my kids will be surfing the web, and they will see the hamster ads on the Lego site, and figure out I’ve been watching hamster sites!

There’s also mention of an opt-out plan. But even if that works, it only means you won’t get served those ads. It may not mean that your surfing habits aren’t given away, and it certainly doesn’t mean that my site will not be accompanied by ads when being looked at by those who didn’t opt out.

From the comments on various sites I can see I’m not the only one who’s concerned with this, but will it stop them? Seriously doubt it. The amount of money these ISPs could gain from this set-up, is just too big.

So, if you would be (or are!) with BT, Virgin Media or the Carphone Warehouse, would you be thinking of changing to a different ISP?

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