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Rogers Experimenting With Content Substitution

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Tuesday December 11, 2007
Canadians are accustomed to "simultaneous substitution" for commercial television, so as the Internet on Cable becomes the Internet as Cable, I suppose it should not surprise that Rogers is experimenting with content substitution on the Internet.  Lauren Weinstein reports that Rogers has begun inserting commercial messages into third party web pages.  In this particular example, the company inserts a commercial message about its own Internet service into a Google search page.  The split screen raises fundamental net neutrality concerns and appears to be a clear case of interfering with content delivery (offering an opt-out is not good enough).  The trend therefore continues - Canada trails the U.S. on the net neutrality legislative front, yet it has far more examples of how the dominant ISPs stand ready to interfere with neutral carriage of content and applications.
Comments (24)add comment

dl said:

Hey Jim Prentice.. DO YOUR JOB
Hey Industry Minister Jim Prentice,

I know you stood behind a sign that proclaimed "putting consumers first." so then Start putting consumers first and put an end to the Madness that the ISP's are doing to its consumers.

example

1.) Stop the Caping, Trafic shapeing, of users who signed up for an account with an ISP when they advertised "Unlimited"

2.) Stop this Growing trend of ISP price increases. ( If I pay more then I should get more)
December 11, 2007

Xrci said:

Enough is Enough
Someone needs to teach these guys a lesson. They have NO shame. The only thing Ted Rogers cares about is lining his pockets. This isn't to say the competition is any better. This type of marketing strategy is deplorable and in my opinion akin to SPAM. Consumers want choice - their choice - not something fed to us by media moguls who feed us programming and information that "they" develop or invest in.

Stop luring consumers with false promises. Stop charging ridiculous sums of money to consumers cancel the services they've subscribed to once they realize they've been conned. Oh, right ... sorry... it's your cash cow. Put an end to the capping and force-feeding. Consumers are not as stupid as you think they are and are tired of this type of manipulation.
December 11, 2007

a guest said:

...
ok. I agree they should not be doing this. But I've a screen capture of the message. It was not a 'comercial message' it was a statement about the user how much was remaining in the user UL/DL ratio. Granted they used a logo for Rogers that included Yahoo.

Again I agree, if they want to do such a thing they need to find another way to do it. They should not be allowed to interfere with the existing web pages.
December 11, 2007

dl said:

...
Thats not the point.. the point is its interfearing with enjoying the viewing of sites.
also this could also be used to serve up ads. and knowing how Rogers works that is Most lickley what they will end up doing.. hell they do it to me almost every other day with ads sent to me Via Postal mail..


==========================
Quote
==========================
ok. I agree they should not be doing this. But I've a screen capture of the message. It was not a 'comercial message' it was a statement about the user how much was remaining in the user UL/DL ratio. Granted they used a logo for Rogers that included Yahoo.

Again I agree, if they want to do such a thing they need to find another way to do it. They should not be allowed to interfere with the existing web pages.
December 11, 2007

David Magda said:

Telecommunications Act
IANAL, but wouldn't this be prohibited by the Telecommunications Act? Specifically Part III, secion 36, "Content of Messages":

Except where the Commission approves otherwise, a Canadian carrier shall not control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public.

[ link ]

Presumably they would need the CRTC's permission to alter packets (or that of the user, unless there's some clause in the Terms of Service).
December 11, 2007

dl said:

...
No they dont.. as the internet is NOT Regulated. and this is why the Canadian ISPs are geting away with stuff..
December 11, 2007

Chris S said:

Who sees the end result?
There are a couple of problems with this approach. The first is that someone who knows what it means may not see the page. In a household where a number of people use a computer (or more than one computer), this might be received by a user who doesn't realize the significance.

Further - HTTP sessions are used by software to communicate with servers. If this was substituted into a non-browswer session - or even an AJAX application - it could break the application.

Seriously - if you really need to communicate with the subscriber, plan ahead for a channel to do just that.
December 11, 2007

Geekwad said:

This is legal?
The internet is not regulated, but that doesn't mean that things that are crimes in "real life" are legal if you do them on the Internet. How can this be legal without an agreement between Rogers and Google?

It's long since past time that we should have abandoned cleartext over the Internet. Hopefully this will serve as some incentive.
December 11, 2007

SomeGuy said:

...
This will be gone by the end of the week. If not by an injunction or legal threat by Google, then by the response of outraged net users. ISPs are becoming underhanded and sleazier by the day in their practices. Too bad.
December 11, 2007

Bruce Elrick said:

...
A couple of analogies:

Bell inerts a computer generated voice when you pick up the phone to receive an incoming call.
(this is more analogous to Rogers inserting text in an incoming email)

Rogers inserts digital messages in your viewing of your favourite TV show.

In both cases, what they do instead is call you up independently of other calls, or they have their own channel for customer messages.

The analogous thing for web browsing is to have their own web site. Wait? They already do? An customers rarely go to it? I wonder why? Perhaps there is little of value to draw the customer to their web site? Anyway, they still have the ability to send you emails. Or call you.
December 11, 2007

a guest said:

...
to dl,

I was just pointing out it was not a comercial as indicated in the story. As I said it's still not right.
December 11, 2007

Adam said:

CDMCA to the Rescue?
I wonder if this sort of thing would be allowed under the CDMCA that was recently withdrawn. Somehow that seems ironic.
December 11, 2007

john said:

...
RTFA, its not a commercial message and its not a URL hijack
December 11, 2007

CptnAhab said:

Copyright Issue?
Dr. Geist: Is modifying the content, creating a derivative work substantially based on the original, and then redistributing/selling it not clearly Copyright Infringement?

Commercial apologists: They (a) display their brand, (b) link to their service purchase page, and (c) charge you for access. How is is this not commercial?
December 11, 2007

Chrus said:

Copy-right, legal issues
I am wondering if it isn't time to push for some net-neutrality.

I am not a lawyer, but injecting your pages overtop of someone elses, probably is a copyright issue.
Google and everyone else in-between will have issues with this.
I would think that in the states that should re-peal the isp's safe harbor status, because now they are editing copyright.

The ISP should remain a pipe that is in between you and the world. If they have over-subscribed, then that is there issue. Something they should fix.

I personally think that if the ISP needs to communicate with you, then they have alternate methods. Then can get you to download a widget on your desktop, so that they can communicate that sort of information.

I think that there is one good use for this type of hi-jacking and injecting.
If there was some sort of emergency, natural or otherwise, the isp would use that in order to alert the user to the potential danger. Depending on the emergency. A few lines at the top of the page.
If i decide to turn it off, then the only way that it came back if it upgraded. In that case the other This way it could tie into local/state emergency services.

After all that good stuff, the basics of net neutrality.

No traffic-shaping of any kind.(If they need to adjust the packages after, they can do that with new subscribers.

Ensuring that the isp has properly advertised its speeds and capacities.
Ensuring that the content on the page that I am getting is the one i asked for.

Ensuring that the ISP wont double charge for bandwidth; so that Google doesn't get charged for ensuring that its content gets delivered safely, as well as the normal bandwidth.


I think that these are all the ones i can think of. If we think this is a good idea, I hope someone can carry this forward.


December 11, 2007

Miguel said:

...
Rogers is also overwriting commercials in the BBC World News (maybe in other channels as well) with their own commercials. So I doubt it will be long before their commercials start appearing in Web sites viewed by their customers. Hopefully enough people will complain about the practice. Which I believe is in very shaky ground vis a vis the previous comment on the Telecommunications Act.
December 11, 2007

john said:

...
Miguel,
"Rogers is also overwriting commercials in the BBC World News"
Can you please elaborate.
December 12, 2007

a guest said:

...
I was under the impression that many (all?) Canadian service providers removed the existing commercials and added their own. I though that was how they made money, other than overcharging. (oh, god let the flaming on how paying for commercial ridden tv is worth it start)



December 12, 2007

dl said:

...
Google is NOT to Happy..

Quote from an email Google sent to ( The Toronto Star )

"As a general principle, we believe that maintaining the Internet as a neutral platform means that carriers shouldn't be able to interfere with Web content without users' permission," the Google statement said. "We are in the process of contacting the relevant parties to bring this to a quick resolution."
December 12, 2007

Donovan Hill said:

...
If there is a program from a US source simultaneously running a show that is also present from a canadian source, the cablecos have to "sim-sub" the canadian channel over the american channel. This is part of the reason I stopped watching Canadian stations. (I use true FTA satellite now).
December 12, 2007

Miguel said:

...
John said:
> "Rogers is also overwriting commercials in the BBC World News"
> Can you please elaborate.
I should had mentioned I was talking about cable TV. Lately I've seen commercials for Rogers' products show up on the BBC World News Channel in between shows when the BBC usually plays their own commercials. I intend to complain to Rogers about it when I've calmed down enough... As far as I can tell the ads don't come from the BBC they're being inserted by Rogers. (of course I could be wrong...)
December 12, 2007

R. Bassett Jr. said:

Begs the question..
Why not send the customer a system generated email instead? Users have to register an email address with Rogers and these sorts of emails have been happening since the dawn of the internet. Practically speaking, there is no need to deliver system messages in this manner.

Anyone else find it funny that one of the first people/companies to steal broadcasts and resell them to users for profit (CATV stands for Community Antenna Television) is also leading the way in stealing the purpose and function of the internet from those who created? The internet was not designed as tool for generating corporate profit, but as an invaluable tool for sharing knowledge quickly and effeciently. Indeed, the internet has changed over the years, but fundimentally it has always remained "free".

I get the impression that in a half dozen or so years we'll be back to "sneaker net", because the few ruined it for the many by making the internet so unapealing to the average user that they'd rather just hand someone an SD card (the modern day micro-chip of the spy era!) with their data on it and be done with it. That or bluetooth it from device to device...
December 13, 2007

Brett Glass said:

ISP
Network neutrality means not using one's control of the pipe to disadvantage competitive content or service providers. For example, if you're a cable company that offers VoIP, network neutrality means not blocking customers' use of other VoIP providers.

Network neutrality does NOT mean that a provider can't "frame" pages (as do many providers -- especially those like Juno which provide inexpensive or free service) or send them informative messages via their browser.

Let's step back and take a dispassionate look at what Rogers is really doing here. They need to get a message to a customer. Like any experienced ISP, they know that there's a good chance that e-mail won't be read in a timely way, if at all. (We, as an ISP, find that our customers constantly change their addresses -- often after revealing them online and exposing them to spammers -- without any notice, and often let the mailboxes that we give them fill up, unread, until they exceed their quotas and no more can be received.) The Windows Message Service once worked to send users messages, but only ran on Windows and is now routinely blocked because it's become an avenue for pop-up spam. Snail mail? Expensive and slow... and the whole point of the Internet is to do things faster and more efficiently than that. Display a different page than the user requested? Perhaps, but that certainly comes much closer to "hijacking" than what Rogers is doing. Display a message in the user's browser window (where we know he or she is looking) along with the Web page, and let the user "dismiss" it as soon as it's noticed? Excellent idea. A wonderful, simple, unobtrusive, and (IMHO) elegant solution to the problem.

Now comes Lauren Weinstein -- known for drawing attention to himself by sensationalizing tempests in a teapot -- who has never run an ISP but seems to like to dictate what they do. Lauren claims that the sky will fall if ISPs use this nearly ideal way of communicating with their customers.

Contrary to the claims of Mr. Weinstein's "network neutrality squad" (who have expanded the definition of "network neutrality" to mean "ISPs not doing anything which we, as unappointed regulators, do not approve"), this means of communication does not violate copyrights. Why? First of all, the message from the ISP appears entirely above, and separate from, the content of the page in the browser window. It's not much different that displaying it in a different pane (which, by the way, the browser might also be able to do -- but this is better because it's less obtrusive and unlikely to fail for the lack of Javascript or distort the page below). The display can't be considered a derivative work, because no human is adding his own creative expression to someone else's creation. A machine -- which can't create copyrighted works or derivative ones -- is simply putting a message above the page in the same browser window.

It isn't defacement, because the original page appears exactly as it was intended -- just farther down in the window. And it isn't "hijacking," because the user is still getting the page he or she requested.

What's more, there's no way that it can be said to be "non-neutral." The proxy which inserts the message into the window doesn't know or care what content lies below. The screen capture in Weinstein's blog showed Google, but it just as easily could have been Yahoo!, or Myspace, or Slashdot.

In short, to complain that this practice is somehow injurious to the author of the original page is akin to an author complaining that his book has been injured by being displayed in a store window along with another book by someone he didn't like. (Sorry, sir, but the merchant is allowed to do that.)

Nor is what Rogers is doing a violation of an ISP's "common carrier" obligations (even if they were considered to be common carriers, which under US law, at any rate, they are not). Common carriers have been injecting notices into communications streams since time immemorial ("Please deposit 50 cents for the next 3 minutes"). And television stations have been superimposing images on program content at least since the early 1960s, when (I'm dating myself here) Sandy Becker's "Max the burglar" dashed across the screen during kids' cartoon shows and the first caller to report his presence won a prize. (The game was called "Catch Max.") And in the US, Federal law -- in particular, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act -- protects ISPs from liability for content they retransmit whether or not they are considered to be common carriers.

There are sure to be some folks -- perhaps people who are frustrated with their ISPs for other reasons -- who will take this as an opportunity to lash out at ISPs. But most customers, I think, will recognize this as a good and sensible way for a company to contact its customers. Our small ISP is looking into it. In fact, because the issue is being raised, we're adding authorization to do it to our Terms of Service, so that users will be put on notice that they might receive a message through their browsers one day. I suppose it's possible that a customer might dislike this mode of communication and go elsewhere, but I suspect that most of them will appreciate it. In the meantime, let's just say "no" to regulation of the Internet.
December 15, 2007

George D. said:

Troublesome questions...
For a number of years now, I have noticed many inconsistencies on the Google News summary page. For example:

-google news headlines that, when clicked, bear no relation to the actual web site that opens;
-google news headlines that remain on the main news summary page for days when most news items go stale and are removed within hours;
-google news headlines that, when clicked, crashed my web browser and often resulted in some sort of anomalous log entry on my router;

I suppose there are many possible explanations for this:
-perhaps the algorithms that drive google news had one or more unreported/unresolved bugs;
-perhaps I had been redirected to a fraudulent copy of google news by a hacker;
-or perhaps, my ISP was directly manipulating my data stream.

If the ISPs have the demonstrated ability to directly manipulate a user's data stream, as well as a demonstrated desire to use that capability, one might reasonably wonder where ISPs draw the line between an obviously harmless advertisement and a far less benign form of manipulation.

Would they use their ability to change the order of google news headlines? To inject their own headlines into the google news summary page? To inject malicious content into a user's web browser?

Would they use their ability to malign the character of troublesome employees and whistle-blowers? Litigants? Business adversaries? Judges? Politicians?

Troublesome questions, indeed.
December 17, 2007

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