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FTC says ISPs collect more data than broadband users think

2021-10-22 18:40 by
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Internet service providers collect a "staggering" amount of detailed data on consumers, Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan said on Thursday in discussing an agency staff report on information collected by major providers like AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

For the report, the FTC requested information from AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Charter, Comcast's Xfinity, Alphabet Inc.'s Google Fiber and T-Mobile as well as advertising firms associated with AT&T and Verizon. The FTC anonymized data in the report, which avoided tying specific practices to specific providers. The key takeaways offer a scathing view of the industry's privacy practices as a whole, FTC members suggested."

Several ISPs in our study gather and use data in ways consumers do not expect and could cause them harm. While consumers certainly expect ISPs to collect certain information about the websites they visit in order to provide efficient internet services, they would likely be surprised at the extent of data that is collected and combined for purposes unrelated to providing the service they request," she said.

Common collection practices across many of the ISPs included gathering data that wasn't necessary to provide internet services, as well as using web browsing data to serve up specific advertisements. Targeted ad groupings, for instance, included categories such as "Gospel and Grits," "Hispanic Harmony," and "Asian Achievers." (Public reports show that the practice of advertising along the lines of race, gender, economic status and sexuality can lead to “digital redlining” that violates civil rights laws, such as discrimination in housing and job ads.)

Numerous ISPs also shared real-time location data with third parties, allowing third parties to garner sensitive details about an individual’s life, such as if they visit a rehab or where their children go to daycare. The sharing of such data with third parties was recently tied to the public outing of a Catholic priest. The Federal Communications Commission in 2020 proposed fines against four major wireless carriers after a data breach revealed that the companies were sharing unauthorized data with a company that works with law enforcement.

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