Reese Richman LLP, a New York Law Firm, is reporting that several Internet service providers are intentionally hijacking search queries to gain affiliate dollars. Richman has filed a lawsuit Aug. 4 against one of the ISPs and the group behind the hijacking technology.
Here’s how it works:
“Paxfire developed and patented a technology that would allow local ISPs to take control of a user’s search query when the user was targeting specified terms. Instead of connecting the search query as normal, the ISPs take users directly to a related site.
Why? The “related site” is typically an affiliate link related to the search term.
If a user was looking for the term “Bloomingdales,” for instance, they would be taken to the Bloomingdales’ website. The ISP would then get an affiliate kick-back for any purchases made on the site. According to evidence gathered by Nicholas Weaver and Christian Kreibich of the International Computer Science Institute at Berkeley, more than 165 terms are being redirected.
Aside from being at least a little bit brilliant, this monetization system is also (as Peter Eckersley puts it) “a deep violation of users’ trust and expectations about how the Internet is supposed to function.” Additionally, according to Richman case, the process violated several legal statutes,” explains Richman.
Blocking the Hijackers
EFF, the foundation that Eckersley is a part of, has developed a Firefox add-on that prevents hijacking. Known as HTTPS Everywhere, the add-on makes all sites function as HTTPS, and thus prevents unannounced redirections.
Google already found an effective way to prevent ISPs from redirecting their searches: “The ISPs are understood to have stopped redirecting Google search traffic after the company complained to them earlier this year,” reports New Scientist.
Bing and Yahoo have yet to take any such measures, however, and their searches are still being redirected without warning for certain terms.
[Source: Reese Richman]