Today the FCC took issue with how Comcast managed its network, essentially it looked at the packets and blocked or throttled those related to peer-to-peer applications on the upload side. If you thought warrantless wiretapping was intrusive, think about all the information you send and receive via data packets.
We’ve tracked a lot of these rather disheartening developments in previous posts, but after Google declared privacy a mythical construct, we thought we’d drive it home. Here are three ways your ISP monitors (quite literally) your data and seeks to control or monetize it.
- Deep packet inspection for managing applications: Comcast essentially employed this method to throttle P2P traffic. Other ISPs are thought to be trying similar tactics, although after today, they may want to rethink how they do it and what they tell their users.
- Deep packet inspection for advertising: Charter Communications, Embarq and others had signed up with a startup called NebuAd that inserted advertising into a web site based on your surfing habits. In the UK, Phorm, another startup, has signed similar deals with Virgin Media, TalkTalk and BT. Charter backed off after a furor resulted when it notified its customers that it would test the service, and Congress started asking questions. Earlier this year Embarq merely changed its terms of service, and went ahead with NebuAd trials on its network. Phorm secretly tracked customers of BT in 2006 and 2007, possibly violating U.K. privacy laws, but the British regulators didn’t act against either company.
- Counting up the Gigabytes: This doesn’t necessarily note what you’re doing online, but it does track how much you’re doing online as part of an effort to stop bandwidth hogs, destroy web video or possibly increase revenue at ISPs.
So as not to leave you feeling too powerless (or totally reliant on Congress actually making any changes to protect your privacy) the Electronic Frontier Foundation has released some open source software called Switzerland, designed to help Internet users detect if their ISP is mucking around with their packets. There’s a network effect benefit here, because the more machines have the software, the easier it is to test what happens to your packets en route.