FTC calls on internet providers to collect users’ browsing data

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Comcast is one of six major ISPs called by the FTC on Thursday for collecting and sharing user data.

Ry Crist / CNET

A new report from Federal Trade Commission staff filed Thursday points to six of the largest internet service providers in the United States, calling on each to amass treasures of their customers’ personal data and not offer meaningful disclosures or options to control the collection of that data.

The six ISPs in question – Verizon, T Mobile, Comcast Xfinity, Charter spectrum, AT&T and Google fiber – represent about 98% of the mobile Internet market in the United States, the report notes. With each, the FTC “identified several disturbing data collection practices,” including instances in which the ISP had combined user data, including browsing history and application usage across ranges of products in order to provide them with targeted advertising; grouped users based on sensitive identifiers such as race or sexual orientation; and had shared the consumer’s real-time location data with third parties.

“These companies have become tech giants that offer not only Internet services but a range of other services including voice, content, smart devices, advertising and analytics, which has increased the volume of information that they are able to collect on their customers “, the The FTC said in a press release.

The report goes on to note that while the companies in question claim to offer consumers choices and controls over how their data is collected and used, many of them make it difficult to use these options, while some encourage consumers. consumers to share even more of their data.

The report also takes issue with ISP data retention practices, as many companies report retaining user data for as long as necessary for “business practices” without offering clear or standardized definitions of what constitutes business practice.

FTC: “In practice, users have been thwarted”

In a separate declaration, FTC President Lina Khan noted that the results highlight gaps in the notification and consent framework for user privacy, particularly in markets where consumers have limited choice of ISPs.

“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 scrutiny, “Khan said.” A new paradigm that goes beyond procedural requirements and instead considers substantial limits seems increasingly worth considering. “

Khan goes on to note that the report’s findings, particularly with respect to the increasingly vertical nature of these companies – many also offer streaming services, smart home integrations, and other add-on offerings – could be something. something to consider as the FTC is considering the potential mergers between media titans.

“The way in which market expansion allows companies to combine very sensitive – and often very valuable – business data underscores the need for us to examine in our merger review process how certain transactions may result in downgrade. user privacy, ”Khan mentioned.

When asked to comment, spokespersons for AT&T and Verizon referred CNET to the CTIA, a trade association for the wireless industry.

“The safety and privacy of consumers online is a top priority for the wireless industry, and federal legislation that uniformly protects users across all platforms is the best way forward,” a CTIA statement said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the FTC, lawmakers and ecosystem companies to ensure consumer protection.”

T-Mobile has echoed this industry call for federal legislation that creates uniform standards for data privacy and security.

“T-Mobile shares the FTC’s focus on consumer privacy and building trust, and we also support federal legislation that would create a uniform standard for all online businesses,” a spokesperson said. from T-Mobile.

A Comcast spokesperson declined to comment. Google and Charter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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