People get up in arms when it comes to privacy on services like Google and Facebook, but your ISP could gather much, much more information about you if it wanted. That has the FCC a bit spooked, and it’s currently crafting rules that would regulate how ISPs inform users of tracking. The agency is also looking at mandating data collection opt-outs. Comcast isn’t too keen on any of that, and it’s made its position known in a new filling. The cable giant thinks your privacy should come with an added fee.
Comcast argues that it should be perfectly acceptable to charge customers more of they don’t want to be spied on. It sounds like hyperbole, doesn’t it? Comcast’s statement is quite clear, though. It’s not even the only ISP that thinks so. This dispute came up because AT&T U-verse customers in some markets were subjected to aggressive deep packet inspection to monitor everything they did online. This data was then sold to advertisers. They could opt-out of the innocuously named “internet preferences” snooping… for an extra $30-60 per month. Comcast’s proverbial ears probably perked up at the mention of all that new profit.
Comcast hasn’t launched anything like AT&T U-verse internet preferences, but it definitely wants to have the option to do so. In its FCC filing, the ISP compares tracking its customers to the sort of tracking already going on around the internet. Comcast says a “bargained-for exchange of information” is a common business practice, and ISPs should not be prohibited from striking such deals.
The assertion made by Comcast that such practices are normal doesn’t hold water when you look at how the internet works. For the most part, services that make a business of collecting user data are providing a free service — for example, the aforementioned Google and Facebook. You can use the service or not, and there are privacy controls available to limit the use of your personal data for advertising purposes. Those tools don’t cost money, either. The most obvious difference is that Comcast and other ISPs are your gateway to the internet, and can therefore see everything you do. Many of Comcast’s customers don’t even have another viable alternative for internet access.
The FCC reclassified ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications act in 2015, after waffling on the issue of net neutrality for years. A legal challenge to that move was shut down in court earlier this year. This gives the FCC more power to regulate how ISPs operate. It could put a stop to these broad data collection practices, and hopefully it does. If not, you might want to look into a good VPN.