The online behavior of a small but growing number of computer users in the United States is monitored by their Internet service providers, who have access to every click and keystroke that comes down the line.
At least 100,000 U.S. customers are tracked this way, and service providers have been testing it with as many as 10 percent of U.S. customers, according to tech companies involved in the data collection.
Although common tracking systems, known as cookies, have counted a consumer’s visits to a network of sites, the new monitoring, known as “deep-packet inspection,” enables a far wider view—every Web page visited, every e-mail sent and every search entered. Every bit of data is divided into packets—like electronic envelopes—that the system can access and analyze for content.
Advocates of deep-packet inspection see it as a boon for all involved. Advertisers can better target their pitches. Consumers will see more relevant ads. Service providers who hand over consumer data can share in advertising revenues. And Web sites can make more money from online advertising, a $20 billion industry that is growing rapidly.
With the service provider involved in collecting consumer data, “there is access to a broader spectrum of the Web traffic—it’s significantly more valuable,” said Derek Maxson, chief technology officer of Front Porch, a company that collects such data from millions of users in Asia and is working with a number of U.S. service providers.
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