ISPs secretly hijacking search traffic to profit off customers


In a study released by a UC Berkeley research group, a group of Internet service providers in the United States are watching the keywords that a user types into a search engine and redirecting those users to the brand page to rack up affiliate revenue. While Charter claims to have stopped this behavior, companies involved include Frontier, Hughes, Insight Broadband, XO Communication, Cincinnati Bell, Megapath, Cavalier, DirecPC, Paetec, Cogent, RCN and Wide Open West. The study also identified a company called PaxFire that’s the middle man for this operation.

paxfire-schemePaxFire watches and collects the search keywords that users type into search engines. Based off typical user behavior, they redirect the user to a brand page. For instance, if a user searches for the term “best buy”, they would be whisked off to the Best Buy home page rather than the search results page. Once the user lands on the page and starts to shop, PaxFire collects affiliate revenue off purchases or collects revenue based on the user simply visiting the page. There are several companies that offer this “service” to ISPs, but PaxFire was found in a relationship the majority of ISPs within this study. Lawyers have already filed a class-action lawsuit against PaxFire claiming that spying on customers is a violation of the Wiretap Act.

The researchers found about 170 brand-related keywords that triggered this redirect action, likely large brand names and lucrative relationships for affiliate revenue. They also discovered that PaxFire proxies occasionally malfunctioned resulting in a broken Web page which the user blames on the search company like Google or Yahoo. If a user is concerned that their ISP may be redirecting search results, they can run a tool provided by the Berkeley team called Netalyzr. Provided by the Electronic Frontier Foundation for increased security, there’s also a Firefox extension called HTTPS Everywhere that encrypts user data by rewriting all requests to the secure HTTPS connection.


The vast majority of YouTube users hit the site for how-to videos

Ever searched for a how-to video on YouTube? Of course you have. The streaming site is bursting with useful guides on how to do stuff, and a recent study has revealed that more users than ever are using it as a learning resource.

These are the 5 best free antivirus apps to protect your MacBook

Malware protection is more important than ever, even if you eschew Windows in favor of Apple's desktop platform. Thankfully, protecting your machine is as easy as picking from the best free antivirus apps for Mac suites.

These 100 best iPhone apps will turn your phone into a jack-of-all-trades

The iPhone is the most popular smartphone in the world, and we want to bring out the best in yours. Behold our comprehensive list of the best iPhone apps, from time-saving productivity tools to fun apps you won’t be able to put down.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix, from 'The Haunting of Hill House’ to ‘The Good Place’

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.

Data stolen from HealthCare.gov includes partial SSNs and immigration status

Around 75,000 users have had their user data stolen from government site healthcare.gov, including information on their immigration status, whether they were pregnant, and partial social security numbers.

Make a GIF of your favorite YouTube video with these great tools

Making a GIF from a YouTube video is easier today than it's ever been, but choosing the right tool for the job isn't always so simple. In this guide, we'll teach you how to make a GIF from a YouTube video with our two favorite online tools.

Google honors Veterans Day by highlighting military service stories

For Veterans Day, Google is honoring the heroes that served the country with a new Google Doodle that highlights the stories of five veterans from the five different branches of the military.

From beautiful to downright weird, check out these great dual monitor wallpapers

Multitasking with two monitors doesn't necessarily mean you need to split your screens with two separate wallpapers. From beautiful to downright weird, here are our top sites for finding the best dual monitor wallpapers for you.

How to change your Gmail password in just a few quick steps

Regularly updating your passwords is a good way to stay secure online, but each site and service has their own way of doing it. Here's a quick guide on how to change your Gmail password in a few short steps.

Need a free alternative to Adobe Illustrator? Here are our favorites

Photoshop and other commercial tools can be expensive, but drawing software doesn't need to be. This list of the best free drawing software is just as powerful as some of the more expensive offerings.

Edit, sign, append, and save with 12 of the best PDF editors

There are plenty of PDF editors to be had online, and though the selection is robust, finding a solid solution with the tools you need can be tough. Here, we've rounded up best PDF editors, so you can edit no matter your budget or OS.
Emerging Tech

Alibaba’s Singles’ Day sale smashes online shopping records

The annual online shopping frenzy that is Singles' Day this year raked in $30.8 billion, up from $25 billion last time around. The Alibaba-organized event generates more in sales than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

Apple to boost its Amazon presence with listings for iPhones, iPads, and more

Apple is about to start offering more of its kit on Amazon. The tech giant currently only has very limited listings on the shopping site, but the deal will see the arrival of the latest iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, and more.

If you've lost a software key, these handy tools can find it for you

Missing product keys getting you down? We've chosen some of the best software license and product key finders in existence, so you can locate and document your precious keys on your Windows or MacOS machine.