US ISPs criticized for spying on their own subscribers • The Register
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission said Thursday that many Internet service providers share data about their customers, in defiance of expectations, and fail to give subscribers adequate choices about whether or how their data is shared.
The trade watchdog’s findings came in the form of a report [PDF] company in 2019 to review the data and privacy practices of major U.S. broadband service providers, including AT&T Mobility, Charter Communications, Google Fiber, T-Mobile US, Verizon Wireless, and Comcast’s Xfinity.
“[T]These findings highlight gaps in the ‘notice and consent’ framework for privacy, particularly in markets where users face very limited choices among service providers, “said FTC boss Lina. Khan, in a statement. [PDF].
“The report found that even in cases where Internet service providers claimed to offer customers some choice in how their data was collected or used, in practice, users were thwarted by design decisions that made complicated, difficult, or nearly impossible to actually escape persistent surveillance.
The FTC study found that some ISPs combine data from their different products and services, some combine data from personal app usage and web browsing to target ads, some segment consumers into related sensitive categories race and sexual orientation, and some share real-time location. data with third parties.
More specifically, the report notes that:
- ISPs often amass large data pools through the vertical integration of services, such as “automation, video streaming, content creation, advertising, email, search, portable devices and cars. connected ”.
- ISPs often collect data that consumers don’t expect, such as “browsing data, TV viewing history, email and search content, data from connected devices, news location and data on race and ethnicity “.
- ISPs often claim to offer consumers choices when it comes to data collection, but also make those choices unclear or rely on dark models to encourage certain actions.
- A significant number of them share real-time location data with other companies.
The report’s observations on ISP privacy practices are particularly damning, noting that ISPs say one thing and do another.
“While several ISPs in our study tell consumers they won’t sell their data, they don’t reveal to consumers the myriad of ways their data can be used, transferred, or monetized outside of the sale, often burying those disclosures. in the fine print of their privacy policies, ”the report says.
Additionally, ISPs reserve the right to share data with their parent organization, scoffing at commitments not to sell personal information. And when these companies provide consumers with access to their information, they often provide impenetrable data that makes no sense out of context.
FTC Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter in a statement [PDF] said the report is a repudiation of the FCC’s revocation of net neutrality under the Trump administration, a call to action for the FTC and a signal for Congress and other agencies to adopt protections significant consumers.
“This report shows how, in the absence of FCC oversight, many ISPs have participated in a race to the bottom to participate in the lucrative market of monetizing their customers’ personal information,” Slaughter said.
Slaughter’s appeal to Congress has not gone unheeded. Via TwitterU.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) echoed the call for privacy legislation and better oversight:
“Broadband companies monitoring our web browsing. Mobile phone providers selling location data to advertisers. This new @FTC report is an urgent call for tough rules and enforcement to protect against broadband company snooping. “
The report comes after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) launched similar investigations into how tech giants use customer payment data. The current administration may have a real interest in competition reform.
All that’s left is for the FTC and FCC to punish blatant data users in a non-trivial way, and Congress to approve meaningful privacy legislation and send it to the White House. ®