...CenturyTel Inc., a Monroe, La., phone company that provides Internet access and long-distance calling services, is facing stiff competition from cellphone companies and cable operators. So to diversify, it's getting into the online-advertising business.
And not just any online advertising. The technology it's using could change the way the $16.9 billion Internet ad market works, bringing in a host of new players -- and giving consumers fresh concerns about their privacy.
CenturyTel's system allows it to observe and analyze the online activities of its Internet customers, keeping tabs on every Web site they visit. The equipment is made by a Silicon Valley start-up called NebuAd Inc. and installed right into the phone company's network. NebuAd takes the information it collects and offers advertisers the chance to place online ads targeted to individual consumers. NebuAd and CenturyTel get paid whenever a consumer clicks on an ad.
This technique -- called behavioral targeting -- is far more customized than the current method of selling ads online. Today, it's an imperfect process: companies such as Revenue Science Inc. and Tacoda Inc., which was recently bought by Time Warner Inc., contract with Web sites to monitor which consumers visit them, attaching "cookies," or small pieces of tracking data, to visitors' hard drives so they are recognized when they return. The targeting firms feed the data to Web site owners, who use it to charge premium rates for customized ads. But the information is limited, since the tracking companies can't monitor all of the sites an individual visits.
The newer form of behavioral targeting involves placing gear called "deep-packet inspection boxes" inside an Internet provider's network of pipes and wires. Instead of observing only a select number of Web sites, these boxes can track all of the sites a consumer visits, and deliver far more detailed information to potential advertisers...
Or anyone else.
You bet, the opportunities for outsourcing contracts from the Feds are endless.
Not to mention the potentional for the entrepreneurial selling of all those credit card numbers they intercept to whomever for whatever.
Free enterprise at work, touching me somewhere.