Is Your ISP Selling Your Clicks?

Dennis Faas's picture

It turns out that not only is big brother watching you, he's profiting from you.

At the Open Data 2007 conference in New York last Tuesday, Compete Inc. CEO David Cancel revealed that ISPs are selling the clickstream data of its subscribers. Clickstream data includes each webpage that a user visits and the order in which the pages were viewed. (Source:

Although the data is not sold with the corresponding user name and information, it is theoretically possible to tie the information to an ISP (Internet Service Provider) account. Cancel went on to say that his company earns millions of dollars from licensing the data from ISPs. He also commented that the clickstream data is "much more comprehensive" than the information obtained by analyzing search queries. (Source:

The revelation seems reminiscent of the AOL incident last year. AOL had revealed that it was giving away search results to researchers when a large sample of data was accidentally released to the public. When asked whether ISPs selling clickstream data is as bad as the AOL debacle, Cancel replied "It's much worse!" (Source:

It's certainly a well known fact that any website a person visits can track that person's surfing habits. But on the other hand, it's a shock to hear that ISPs are profiting from this data. It does not seem unreasonable to expect the ISPs to -- at the very least -- inform their users that they are selling their clickstream data. (Source:

The privacy implications of the Internet have been an unresolved issue for quite some time, prompting many US Members of Congress to push for stronger privacy protection laws for Internet users.

For his part, Cancel says that he "strongly supports an increase in the methods and degree to which disclosure is communicated." He adds that "all users should be informed explicitly when their data can be sold to a third party." (Source:

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