Month: August 2011 voted one of the “Best Places to Work”

Based upon a confidential survey of our staff members by the North Bay Business Journal, has been honored as one of the “North Bay Business Journal’s Best Places to Work”.

We really appreciate this honor, and the candid feedback from our team here. I work with an amazing group of individuals, and I am very excited about where we are all headed together.

Thank you.

-Dane Jasper

The Five Levels of ISP Evil

NOTE: If you’re interested in broadband & policy, you are in the right place!

Read the related post, “Help us, protect your privacy online” and sign the EFF petition. Then, learn “Why U.S. Broadband is so Slow“. If you are concerned about capped Internet consumption, see “Drilling Through the Caps“. Finally, learn more about’s innovative new Fusion Broadband+Phone product, available in the SF Bay Area today, with new regions coming soon. -DJ


Recently a number of ISPs have been caught improperly redirecting end-user traffic in order to generate affiliate payments, using a system from Paxfire. A class action lawsuit has been filed against Paxfire and one of the ISPs.

This is a serious allegation, but it’s the tip of the iceberg. I’m not sure if everyone understands the levels of sneakiness that service providers can engage in. So, while I’m no expert (as we are an ISP who doesn’t do these things), but as a broad overview, here is my quick guide to the five levels of ISP evil, and the various “opportunities to monetize customers” that we’ve passed on:

5: Improper NXDOMAIN handling, also known as “Domain Helper” applications. When a customer attempts to visit an invalid site, instead of returning the RFC standard “no such domain” response, the servers provide a search result which includes sponsored links. Sometimes the results are not well matched to the mis-typed domain, and they promote ads instead with broad commercial appeal like insurance, which will generate a high payout if the customer clicks. Extra evil points for making it difficult to opt out of this, requiring opt-out via a cookie or browser setting rather than providing “clean” DNS servers. (Paxfire’s system is positioned as a search/helper application, but these systems can be easily converted, even without the ISP’s awareness, to an affiliate pumping system.) Evil score: 2 evil points, somewhat evil, but now every major access provider provides helpful results for address typos.

A diagram showing how Phorm's "Webwise" system creates copies of its tracking cookie in each domain the end-user visits, based on the report published by Richard Clayton. Wikipedia.

4: Clickstream Tracking. An ISP is in the unique position as the point of traffic origination, creating the opportunity for very in-depth analysis of Internet usage behavior. Tracking the user’s Clickstream, the site to site to site movement as they browse using a set of tools like Phorm allows service providers to create cash out of information about private use of the Internet. Clickstream data buyers are generally ad targetting; if you visited and looked at F-250 trucks, then, it might make sense to place ads for large Chevy trucks on the CNN page rather than an ad for fabric softener. Absent this prior knowledge that you were a potential truck buyer, the ads might be for something of less interest to you, and thus less likely to be clicked, to “monetize”. Over time, analysis of the complete Clickstream can provide lots of insight to advertisers. Extra evil points for selling the Clickstream data without telling customers. Evil score: 5. What you do online is private!

3: Ad Swapping. Transparently proxy all web traffic, and when ad banners are in transit, perform real-time swaps of the ads for other ads for which the ISP is getting a cut of the revenue. Legitimate advertiser ads are sometimes fetched so that no one notices the decline in impressions. The pitch to ISPs from companies like NebuAd sometimes included claims of “partnerships” with content sites to better target ads. Extra evil points for ISPs who provide demographic data to the firm running the ad-swapping system. Evil score: 6.

Our reply: "No, not interested, thanks. -Dane" Email reply to Mark Lewyn, President, Paxfire Inc., Wednesday, October 29, 2008 3:35 PM

2: Affiliate Program Pumping. As alleged in the Paxfire scheme, ISPs or their accomplices take incomplete or incorrect domain entries into the URL bar and direct them to an intermediate page, which redirects transparently to a URL which includes an affiliate tag. So, a consumer types “amazon”, and rather than returning an NXDOMAIN, or even a search result, the ISP DNS server directs them to an IP address which does a content reload toward a URL of the form Purchases made subsequently are compensated as if it was legitimate traffic from an affiliate. Evil score: 8, with a bonus point for poisoning the affiliate ecosystem.

1: Rolling Over. In an attempt to avoid costs or under pressure from government or content creators, ISPs have handed over customer information, and even subjected customer traffic to broad snooping. Allegations range from service providers simply quietly handing over customer info to law firms with improperly filed lawsuits and incorrectly served supoenas, to the physical wire-tapping of major fiber optic lines. We’ve got your back. Evil score: 10. Potential for human rights violation.

Help us, protect your privacy online

Credit: Int'l Herald Tribune

A panel of the U.S. House of Representatives has just moved forward legislation that would force ISPs to retain logs about your online activities for one full year. I urge you to write to your representatives in hopes of preserving your right to privacy online.

Today we retain most IP allocation logs for just two weeks; we don’t need them beyond that period, so they are deleted. Storing logs longer presents an attractive nuisance, and would potentially make our customers the target of invasions of privacy. Any lawyer could simply file a Doe lawsuit, draft up a subpoena and request a customer’s identity. It’s far too easy.

Do the wheels of justice – or investigation – move too slowly, and should data be retained for a long time to allow for legitimate investigation? No, there are already tools in place that law enforcement can easily use to ask ISPs to preserve log information of real online criminals. The 1996 Electronic Communication Transactional Records Act allows law enforcement to require an ISP to keep data for 90 days upon law enforcement request, giving time for a legitimate search warrant to be reviewed by a judge and issued. But, keeping data on every online user for a full year presents far too much potential for abuse.

CNET writes that “It represents ‘a data bank of every digital act by every American’ that would ‘let us find out where every single American visited Web sites,’ said Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who led Democratic opposition to the bill.” (Note that does not track your actual use of the Internet, so there are no logs of browsing history. Our concern is about IP allocation logs. -DJ)

Lofgren said the data retention requirements are easily avoided because they only apply to ‘commercial’ providers. Criminals would simply go to libraries or Starbucks coffeehouses and use the Web anonymously, she said, while law-abiding Americans would have their activities recorded.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation sums it up well, and provides a tool to allow you to speak out against this legislation: “The U.S. House of Representatives is currently considering H.R. 1981, a bill that would order all online service providers to keep new logs about our online activities, logs to help the government identify the web sites we visit and the content we post online. This sweeping new ‘mandatory data retention’ proposal treats every Internet user like a potential criminal and represents a clear and present danger to the online free speech and privacy rights of millions of innocent Americans.”

I urge you to contact your Representative today and ask them  to oppose this dangerous bill:

See also: EFF Warns Congress: Data Retention Would Endanger Privacy, Gain Little