NebuAd hires like spyware, acts like spyware

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At least five high-ranking employees at NebuAd, a Silicon Valley start-up that snoops on Web surfers on behalf of their Internet service providers, are veterans of one of the more notorious spyware companies around, Claria Corp.

Claria, nee Gator, infamously spewed ads on millions of computers. The software that did so often arrived there bundled with file-sharing tools or with browser add-ons. Later, it settled many lawsuits by companies who complained that when Gator-addled Web users visited their sites, ads for their rivals would pop up.


A resourceful check of LinkedIn and LinkSV today by tech tabloid the Register reveals that Claria alumni now at NebuAd include Scott Tavenner, Claria’s vice president of business development; Chuck Gilbert, senior product manager; Mike Miller, vice president of ad sales; Amy Auranicky, director of ad sales; and Jeanne Houwelingis, vice president of ad services (NebuAd pointed out that its co-founders hail from other firms).

All of which is interesting in light of new disclosures about how NebuAd works, and on behalf of whom.

A report (you can download a PDF here) this week by public interest groups Free Press and Public Knowledge, ably distilled by Wired, shows how NebuAd not only tracks where surfers go but also injects its own code in the middle of their downloads, force-feeding those subscribers tracking cookies.

NebuAd says the idea is to better target advertising and that consumers can get information on them deleted. But Web purists, who have already complained to Congress, say that NebuAd is breaching the convention that calls for middlemen in Internet transmissions to stay out of the process.

Also of note were the ISP clients listed. Previously, Charter Communications said it was planning a test with NebuAd, but the report said other customers include WOW!, Embarq, Broadstripe, CenturyTel and Metro Provider.

‘NebuAd breaks the rules of acceptable behavior on the Internet,’ report author Robert M. Topolski said. ‘It monitors what you do and see on the Internet, it breaks in and changes the contents of your private communications, it keeps track of what you’ve done and if you even know that it’s happening, it is impossible to opt out of it.’

-- Joseph Menn