Tech firm NebuAd
has put on hold plans to widely deploy an online advertising technology
that tracks consumers' every Web click while Congress reviews privacy
concerns associated with the technique.
The Silicon Valley company announced this week that founder and
chief executive Bob Dykes was resigning. His departure comes as a
number of Internet companies have suspended or canceled trials of
NebuAd's controversial tracking technique, known as deep-packet
inspection, marketed to companies seeking to target ads to Web users.
"Our platform was architected to be a multi-channel ad system,"
spokeswoman Janet McGraw wrote in an e-mail. "With the Internet service
provider channel currently on hold with the events of the summer, we
have broadened the focus of our business but continue to enhance our
technologies for that ISP channel."
She said that NebuAd supports the companies "who have put their
trial deployments on hold so that Congress can spend additional time
addressing the privacy issues and policies associated with online
Critics have likened deep-packet inspection to the phone company
tapping a call. The technology allows a window into potentially all of
a consumer's online activity, from Web surfing and search terms to any
unencrypted Web communication.
Dykes had led the company's drive to apply the technique to targeted online advertising. He is resigning to take a job at VeriFone, an electronic payment systems provider, but will remain NebuAd's chairman of the board.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee
this summer opened an inquiry into online advertising and privacy,
focusing in part on tests conducted by Internet companies using NebuAd.
Many of those tests were carried out without consumers' prior, explicit
The outcry among lawmakers, consumers and privacy advocates led at
least seven companies to suspend or cancel partnerships with NebuAd,
including The Washington Post Co.'s Cable One, with some saying they would hold off until privacy concerns are addressed.
"The sense I get is the air is out of the tires as it relates to
targeted advertising through deep-packet inspection," said Robb
Topolski, a technology consultant. "The users have made it very clear
that they don't want any part of ISP monitoring regimes that watch
everything they do and say on the Internet."
Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital
Democracy, said that NebuAd "seriously underestimated the privacy
NebuAd is not the only company in the United States to experiment
with the technology, though it was the most high-profile. NebuAd's
president, Kira Makagon, will become chief executive. She will attempt
to expand the firm's advertising systems "across more traditional
channels," McGraw said.