Your Deepest Secrets are Not Safe with Your ISP

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Will Young

If you were expecting a piece of feel-good news, unfortunately this isn’t it. Unless you are like me, and find relaxation in reading articles which are gravely concerning for the future of privacy and digital human rights.

Either way, we’ve got you covered.

A recent study conducted by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) put major league internet service providers on the line; and what they found might have you logging off.

The FTC issued orders for information on consumer data practices, privacy, and the companies transparency in regards to such practices.

They wanted to know what kinds of personal data were collected and how this information was collected, what they did with this data, who it was shared with, and how long it was retained. One major question being whether or not this data was anonymized and how it was aggregated.

They also sought information on the companies transparency on the issues like what their disclosure policy actually discloses, what access consumers have to their own data, the quality of services provided between customers that denied vs. opt-in to their data collection policies, and how honest these companies have been on the subject.

Across the board, the findings of this study are, at the very least, extremely concerning. They found that our data is amassed across all apps and product lines (voice, tv, internet, whatever service is offered through your internet service provider).

The consumers are then placed into categories of sensitive information like sexual orientation, annual income, and race. They even share our real time location data with these omniscient third parties. While they claim not to sell our personal information, they still somehow manage to allow it to be shared and monetized for third party access and use. Who are these third parties, you may ask? Its everything from bounty hunters and bail bondsmen, to car salesmen and product managers, and everything in between. All of this goes on without our consent and without protections in place.

As for the companies that claim to offer consumer protection and control of how their data is collected and used, it was found to be lofty jargon and open-ended promises that ultimately had many loopholes. For example, they might promise to keep data for only as long as needed for business purposes but theres no definition of business purposes. It seems more like they hold on to it until they’ve sold to every last bidder and then discard the small fragmented portion to make room for more. The choices offered by ISPs to their customers on how their data is collected and shared were found to be rather deceiving, in some cases even encouraging the consumer to release more personal information without them realizing it.

In conclusion, the findings in this study are way past a red flag. This study should stand as a wake-up call to all of us internet-users. Our very personal detailed information, internet traffic, thought patterns, are being amassed and sold without our knowledge. It is not being anonymized, and if there’s any attempt to anonymize the data, it is very easily undone by anybody who can use a spreadsheet.

While we are given the illusion of control over it, none of th choices presented to us are for our benefit. This raises many questions, but my first is: “how many other companies are presenting us with meaningless options to induce a false sense of security regarding our data?” Option A, Option B, both of them still have all your data being sold.

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