Initially you might get a harmless popup ad like this, asking you to submit your email id to receive bills through email. But rest assured, more such ads will follow, with some users already complaining about popups asking them to upgrade their plans!
MTNL is using Adphonso to serve these ads and here is what Adphonso describes its services as:
The stunning new technique of advertising on the connected devices, delivers Rich Media Advertisements to potential customer through networks. The solution reads the Machine Details, Browser and OS information and Customer Behaviour along with location and delivers relevant impression. The network architecture is simple and is directly connected to the ISP and hence avoids the need to go to a publisher and buy expensive ad slots.
If you ask me, this is pretty shady stuff with strong implication on your privacy. However we will talk about it later on, for now, let’s see how we can get rid of these pesky popups.
If you have a windows computer, then open windows explorer and navigate to C:\Windows\System32\drivers\etc folder. Here you will see hosts file.
Double click on hosts file and chose to open it in notepad. At the end of all the text, enter following:
Here is how it would look like in hosts file.
Now go to file – save and save the hosts file and reboot your system and clear the browser cache if you are still getting popup, though after a reboot it shouldn’t be needed and you should no longer get these popups from MTNL.
If you are unable to save the file in the etc directory, then save it on your desktop or any other folder, then copy it to the etc folder and overwrite the existing hosts file.
While this would work wonderfully on your Windows PC, Adphonso claims to be able to target any device i.e. these popups can soon end up on your mobile phone as well, if MTNL’s greed gets to that level.
So at least in my view, it is best to block this at router level, so that you wouldn’t have to implement this on multiple computers and mobile phones.
In my MTNL router, I can filter URL by navigating to Access Management – Filters and then choosing URL Filter option in front of Filter Type Selection. Then I need to enable URL Filter Editing by choosing yes radio button and enter adphonso.com and 18.104.22.168 in URL Index 1 and 2, as shown below.
In your router URL Filter setting might be located under a different setting, however the option to filter out URLs should be there in most router and at least to me, this is a much more robust and convenient way of keeping MTNL out of my systems.
Coming back to privacy aspect of all this, since MTNL is not only serving these ads to you, but also tracking the websites you visit as well as system details about your computer/tablet/mobile and sharing it with Adphonso and other advertisers, you will likely soon start receiving much more nasty popups filled with ads on all your devices.
And this is when we pay relatively high charges for poor speed and bad service!
Much more worryingly, if MTNL has today stooped to serving popups like these to its paying customers, who knows, tomorrow it might start spamming our email address (which is why I wouldn’t share my email id with them) or might even start redirecting us to different websites, if it sees more profit in such tactic.
Hence I urge all MTNL users to send email to all senior officers of MTNL (email ids can be found here MTNL Delhi and here MTNL Mumbai) and make them aware of your displeasure with this latest tactic of MTNL or better yet, vote with our money and move to an ISP, which does not serves such popups!
Update: It seems MTNL is even pushing these popups on mobile phones and tablets. Furthermore, you might find that at times when you try to open a website, it does not open and in your status bar, it says waiting for 22.214.171.124. This is the ad server of MTNL, and since access to it is now blocked, it is preventing your browser from opening the page. In such a case, it is best to close the browser and reopen it to remedy the problem.