The Electronic Frontier Foundation worked with UC Berkeley's International Computer Science Institute to uncover a widespread program of search-hijacking by American ISPs. Many US ISPs run covert proxies that redirect certain lucrative search queries (made by customers who believe that they are searching Google or another search engine) to their preferred suppliers, pocketing an affiliate fee for delivering their customers. Participating ISPs, which include Cavalier, Cogent, Frontier, Fuse, DirecPC, RCN, and Wide Open West (Charter used to do this, but appear to have stopped), did not disclose the practice to their customers, who were meant to believe that they were getting the search results that their preferred search-engines had presented.
EFF and ICSI uncovered the vendor that supplied the hijacking software, a company called Paxfire.
Using EFF's HTTPS Everywhere Firefox extension and a search-engine that permits HTTPS logins (such as Google or DuckDuckGo) will prevent this sort of hijacking.
Widespread Hijacking of Search Traffic in the United States
The proxies in question are operated either directly by Paxfire, or by the ISPs using web proxies provided by Paxfire. Major users of the Paxfire system include Cavalier, Cogent, Frontier, Fuse, DirecPC, RCN, and Wide Open West. Charter also used Paxfire in the past, but appears to have discontinued this practice.
Why do they do this?
In short, the purpose appears to be monetization of users' searches. ICSI Networking's investigation has revealed that Paxfire's HTTP proxies selectively siphon search requests out of the proxied traffic flows and redirect them through one or more affiliate marketing programs, presumably resulting in commission payments to Paxfire and the ISPs involved. The affiliate programs involved include Commission Junction, the Google Affiliate Network, LinkShare, and Ask.com. When looking up brand names such as "apple", "dell", "groupon", and "wsj", the affiliate programs direct the queries to the corresponding brands' websites or to search assistance pages instead of providing the intended search engine results page.
(Image: 2005_South Africa_Centurion_DSCF0242, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from hmvh's photostream)
In Millionaire Migration and the Taxation of the Elite: Evidence from Administrative Data, Stanford sociologist Cristobal Young builds on his substantial research on “millionaire migration,” to show that only a small minority of millionaires move when local taxes go up — far too few to represent a net loss to the tax coffers.
Many years ago, EFF co-founder John Gilmore and I were discussing the prevalence of botnets, which are commonly used to launch distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that overwhelm websites with floods of traffic; John said that if the botnets were really on the rise at the reported rate, we should expect to see a […]
Anonymous Analytics describes itself as “a faction of Anonymous” that uses its “unique skills to expose fraud and corruption among public companies.”
We’d all love a 75-inch TV screen on which to view our favorite shows. But not all of us can drop the cash needed to get one of those broadcasting beauties (or even have the space needed to house them).Thankfully, there’s an alternative. With the SainSonic Mini LED Portable Projector (only $59.99 in the Boing Boing Store), you can project a picture […]
If you want to add some real firepower to your programming repertoire, learn Java–one of the most adaptable, widely-used programming platforms around. You can easily do that with this Ultimate Java bundle, now just $69 in the Boing Boing Store.Across 14 lectures and 117 hours of content, the educators at online academy eduCBA will walk you through […]
Every company wants to harness the power of social media, but few understand how to make that happen. Be one of those select few with this Social Media Marketing Course & Certification package, now just $29 in the Boing Boing Store.Over 12 modules of course material, you’ll learn what it takes to increase a brand’s […]