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Charter's Ad Tracking Program Gets Axed

The highly controversial program by cable company and broadband ISP Charter Communications, which would have tracked subscribers data in order to serve up some targeted shilling, is officially dead in the water. The plan was killed due to outrage from consumer groups as well some not-so-friendly interest from the government. From a Wired News article:

One small part of the problem, as most regulators and privacy groups saw it, was that Charter would have sold highly-sensitive subscriber data to third-party advertisers, while the option for subscribers to opt out was inadequate. Plus, consumers wouldn't have gotten anything out of the deal.

"What they intended to do was to take all this information, sell it, and give subscribers nothing in return," says David Wallerman, a senior analyst at eMarketer.

While Charter probably should have allowed for better opt-out functions, I wonder what besides their position as an ISP separates them from your traditional targeted ad network. One of the saving graces of behavioral targeting is how low consumer awareness remains of how extensively they're tracked as they move across the Web. In an informal poll among five friends, only one was aware that they can be tracked as they bounce around the web, or that they receive ads crafted around their web surfing habits. When I attempted to explain what behavioral targeting is, the rest were various degrees of alarmed and squicked out.

Then again, we're probably still away from some of the gems offered up in Cracked's "The 5 Creepiest Advertising Techniques of the (Near) Future" including this nightmare vision:

Behavioral economists and scientists have teamed up to perform brain scans on volunteers to figure out just what makes the "buy it now" part of your brain light up. They want to know which neurons in your brain fire when ads are effective and which neurons fire when they're not.

At that point, all advertisers need to do is find out what subconscious cues it takes to make their product slip right past the part of you that thinks through buying decision before reaching for your wallet. Though it seems like they could have saved a few million dollars and just stuck some boobs in the ad, but, hey, it's their money.

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