Times Square’s Courtyard Marriott Accused of Bugging Your Internet

Justin Watt, a web developer, is accusing the Courtyard Marriott in New York’s Times Square of bugging his Internet, injecting ads into each page he viewed while logged into the hotel’s Wi-Fi network.

After some digging (and complex code you can read more about on his website), Watt found that Marriott’s Internet provider injected CSS and JavaScript code into each page to run a “Revenue eXtraction Gateway” for the purpose of putting targeted ads on each page.

Chris Rill, a software engineer and entrepreneur familiar with web application development told Gadling:

“This is much different from a typical ad pixel because the Internet provider (the hotel in this case) is injecting the ad, not the content provider (website).

This is a key issue in the net neutrality debate. The “network” is looking for a way to increase revenue and this is an example of how the network can modify the content to monetize the user.”

In modifying the code, YouTube was also disabled in the browser – another fact that didn’t make Mr. Watt particularly happy.

A Boston-based digital media expert, familiar with the industry but not with this particular case said,

“I think it’s safe to say that this is not a Marriott-wide, or even Courtyard-wide effort. This is a single hotel (or particular HSA provider) doing their own thing.”

“It’s unclear to me if something that crosses the line is actually happening,” He adds. “From where I sit, [Watt] is using a free service, and in this day and age when we are using a service for free we should expect to have advertisements shown to us. Heck, even when services are not free, we should expect to have ads shown to us.”

Watt is angry – as are most of the commenters on his blog post and other places it has been shared. Many feel as if they are being spied on by the hotel.

While users are understandably outraged by what they see as spying, displaying contextual ads following a user’s visit is fairly common practice. At question here, as Mr. Rill points out, is whether the network or the hotel is actually profiting off of the user by placing targeted ads.

Still, if you wish to guard your privacy, Watt suggests that you BYO connectivity or connect through a VPN so that a public network can’t detect your traffic.

UPDATE: 5:30 PM, April 6, 2012:
A Marriott spokesperson says “This is not a Marriott-endorsed protocol and we are working to investigate the issue.”

[Flickr via StreetFlyJZ]