Airtel is allegedly inserting code in the webpages you browse

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Bharti Airtel has again made headlines for all the wrong reasons. After angering Internet users in India with its ambitious VoIP pack and Airtel Zero plan, the telecom giant has been now accused of spying on its 3G mobile Internet subscribers.

It all started with a tweet from Bengaluru-based programmer named Thejesh GN (@thej) claiming that “Airtel 3G is injecting javascript into your browsing session” over its 3G network. Later, Airtel in a statement accepted the existence of this code by saying that the said “solution” (or code) is deployed to help customers keep track of data consumption and ultimately better “customer experience”.

Thejesh further revealed that Airtel has actually partnered with Ericsson to get this so called data tracker solution. He made the codes or the “solution” public on code-repository website called GitHub. Soon after that he received a cease and desist legal notice from Flash Networks for making a proprietary code public. So, Airtel’s solution is actually made by Flash Networks and Ericsson simply offered this service to Airtel.

So, what is this service about? Flash Networks on it website proudly boasts that it offers telecom operators “a new way to monetise.” Monetise from what? According to Flash Network’s website, the said solution “help mobile operators communicate with their subscribers as they browse the web, and to offer them services that generate new downstream revenues from over-the-top affiliation.”

While Airtel has refused the claim of spying by saying that “the company has zero tolerance with regard to the confidentiality of customer data,” the said solution continues to exist and does what it is meant to do- go through browsing sessions of the user in the background and offer Airtel “services that generate new downstream revenues.” But has consumers asked Airtel to do this with their money? No.

Although Airtel has made its stand clear on the issue, many questions still remain unanswered. For one, the insertion of code into users’ browsing session without their prior permission violates user consent.Thereafter, using this code to track user behaviour looks like a gross violation of privacy and in the longer run a breach of net neutrality since the original content is altered.Airtel was recently in news for its Zero Rating plan that violated net neutrality.

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