Nortel's latest web content products for internet service providers (ISPs) have been criticised by US privacy advocates for allowing companies to track users without their knowledge.
The company this week launched its Personal Internet initiative, which includes software and hardware tools that enable ISPs to distribute content by monitoring customers' preferences and locations. But Jason Catlett, president of US advocacy group Junkbusters, said consumers would "resent this intrusion".
"ISPs and telcos should not be monitoring where their customers go [on the web] to build up a profile of them for targeted advertising. They are carriers, like the post office, and have no business looking inside the envelopes to decide where to send more junk," he said.
A spokesman for Nortel argued that ISPs would be unlikely to abuse the capabilities of the products for fear of a backlash. "People can use a knife to slice bread or to stab someone - [the products] are the same thing," he explained.
The spokesman also said that ISPs could allow users to opt out of receiving personalised services, but Catlett argued that consumers should not have to negotiate how much privacy they want.
Nortel maintained that the products are useful to ISPs because they allow them to distribute relevant content in the most efficient way. For instance, the products would recognise if users are using Wap devices and send content stripped of graphics, or tailor content to users' preferred languages.
The tools, which will be available in the spring, are based on the intelligent internet switches that Nortel inherited from its $8bn acquisition of Alteon WebSystems last year.
They include the Alteon Content Director, which provides routing to content sites based on network load; Personal Content Cache for streaming media; and the 780 Web Switch for high-volume internet datacentre environments.
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