FTC study highlights internet provider failings to protect consumers

A study published by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has found that internet service providers (ISPs) are failing to disclose to consumers how they are protecting their privacy.

According to Cyberscoop, the study discovered that ISPs are failing to disclose to consumers how they use sensitive data, obscure privacy practices and make it difficult to opt-out of collection.

The report scrutinised six of the biggest ISPs, including Verizon Wireless, Charter Communications Operating, AT&T, Mobility, Comcast, Google Fiber and T-Mobile US – companies which cover 98% of the mobile internet market. In addition, it covered three affiliated advertising entities, including AT&T’s Xander, Verizon Online and Oath Americas.

The FTC anonymised data in the report, which sought to avoid tying particular practices to specific providers. Common collection practices across many of the ISPs included pulling in data that wasn’t necessary to the internet service providing process, as well as using web browsing data to produce specific advertisements.

Many ISPs were found to have shared real-time location data with third parties, enabling them to secure sensitive details about an individual’s life – including where their children go to day-care or if they visited a rehab centre.

The FTC report underlined how ISPs may pose a threat to user privacy due to their ‘relatively unfettered’ access to unencrypted internet traffic, user identity and local and the ability to combine data from across services. The FTC also found that ISPs made it tougher for consumers to opt out of data collection by using a variety of tactics for consumers if they wanted to find out what ISPs had collected on them.

The report concluded, “While several ISPs in our study tell consumers they will not sell their data, they fail to reveal to consumers the myriad of ways that their data can be used, transferred, or monetized outside of selling it, often burying such disclosures in the fine print of their privacy policies.”

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