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A hopefully terminal delay in enhancing advertising


By: Scott Bradner


This cannot be a comfortable time for the venture capitalists that invested in NebuAd.   Overwhelmingly negative attention by the press and a congressional committee are not the way for a company that has depended on having a low profile to have an assured future.  Over the course of the last few months NebuAd has, perhaps somewhat unfairly, become the poster child for greedy ISPs and privacy invasion and this attention seems to have dried up its already small pool of tone deaf ISPs that were trying out the technology.


I wrote about NebuAd more than a year ago.  (An invisible abomination - and A semi-visible semi-abomination -   After talking to NebuAd I concluded that the company was trying to be responsible but I still did not much like what they were doing.  I particularly did not like the ineffectual cookie-based op out mechanism and, although I did not say it at the time, I'm not sure that the data they collect is as anonymous as they maintain.   They say they do not collect detailed information about Internet activity, they only note rough categories of visited sites) and they hash the IP address before they store that data.  But I expect that if they were supplied with an IP address they could tell you the categories of sites that the computer with that IP address visited. Not a bit risk, but a privacy issue in any case.


NeubAd's activities have been the subject of congressional hearings and a lot of posturing by politicians.  (see , , ,  and )  I expect that NebuAd's CEO does not have warm feelings for Washington these days.   As part of one of these hearings the House Committee on Energy and Commerce asked 33 ISPs and other Internet companies to respond to a series of questions about their use of technology like NeubAd's.  (press release - and letter  The committee received 31 real responses and one plea for more time.  (see  Some of these responses are quite interesting.


No one admits to be currently using NeubAd but a couple of ISPs said that they had run trials that they stopped after they saw the adverse publicity about the idea and vendor.  Most ISPs said that they did not use anything like NeubAd and had no plans to but quite a few hedged their bets a bit, maybe to preserve their options.  The response that was most to the point was from Frontier Communications whose 1 paragraph letter said basically 'Frontier does not and cannot do this kind of thing so the answers to your questions are "no" or "not applicable." 


The ISPs that had tried NeubAd tried to say that it was "advanced advertising" that would "help improve your favorite websites by showing ads that are relevant to you, and reduce clutter."  (see  they also pointed at NeuBad's poor opt out process.  NeubAd has recently said they were going to come up with a non-cookie based opt out mechanism but if they actually believed that they provided value to the customer they would switch to op-in. (


The most interesting response was from AT&T that basically said they did not currently use this kind of technology but that such technology "could prove quite valuable to consumers and could dramatically improve their online experience." ( ) But I bet they do not believe this enough to use op-in.   AT&T also said that Google was far worse than anything that NeubAd-like technologies could do.  They are not wrong but them claiming to be good by not being as bad as the other guy does not make me feel warm and fuzzy.


disclaimer:  Places like Harvard are not supposed to make you feel warm and fuzzy, at least intellectually, but the university has expressed no opinion on NeubAd or AT&T so the above view is mine.