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ISPs Tell Congress They Don't Need Privacy Laws

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Earlier today the second of two governmental hearings related to online privacy got underway. This particular hearing focused on deep packet inspection and how Internet service providers want to mine your data. The hearing kicked off with new data from Consumer Reports that said 72 percent of Americans are worried about their actions being tracked online. But apparently 61 percent are confident that what they do online is private and isn’t shared without their permission.

After the hullabaloo about NebuAd, which wanted to use deep packet inspection technology to determine where users surfed and then sell advertising against those surfing habits, I imagine consumers are more aware than ever about threats to their online privacy. But after listening to the hearing I’m not sure we will get meaningful legislation on this topic.

Already, the ISPs testifying before the committee, which included AT&T, Time Warner and Verizon, pushed the idea of self-regulation by the ISPs when it comes to online privacy. If the testimony from the AT&T executive doesn’t scare the heck out of anyone thinking their data isn’t tracked online, you’re clearly not listening. Broadly, all of the ISPs wanted some kind of informed opt-in to permit tracking on their online activity. For more details, plus the ISP’s plans for ensuring consumer privacy without legislation, check out their statements.

Representing the public, or at least the people who don’t make money from online advertising, was Public Knowledge President and Co-Founder Gigi B. Sohn, who warned against the use of deep packet inspection technology. She compared the use of DPI to ISPs reading your mail — an analogy used by FCC Chairman Kevin Martin when he issued the enforcement order last month against Comcast for throttling P2P traffic. Sohn said that:

ISPs are opening these envelopes, reading their contents, and keeping or using varying amounts of information about the communications inside for their own purposes. In some cases, ISPs are actually passing copies of the envelopes on to third parties who do the actual reading and use. In others, ISPs are using the contents to change the normal ways that the Internet works.

Some of the senators were clearly disturbed by the amount of information that could be collected via deep packet inspection and later sold for advertisers. Others wanted a way for consumers to see and control their online profiles. From a consumer perspective, I want to know if Congress will decide that an opt-in strategy will be enough, or if it will attempt meaningful legislation to protect privacy and data collection online. And how far would that legislation go? Would it address the data collected by search engines? Our cell phones? There’s a lot at stake here.

13 Responses to “ISPs Tell Congress They Don't Need Privacy Laws”

  1. Hi again,
    just in response to, mark81295 post, the link you provide….you must not have read this site’s privacy policy, it’s supposedly providing you with anonymity and security while using Unsecured Public Networks. If you’re using a Public Unsecured Network and it can provide high security, then that’s an incentive to use it. However, if you’re looking for Anonymity and Privacy …….well if you read their privacy policy, even this short snippet I’ve included below, you can see it’s not providing you with privacy in truth. Sure, if you’re using a public unsecure network it may stop the information that you send over the network being intercepted but it doesn’t provide better privacy than your Secure ISP provider, which is what the original issue was.
    Here check this out especially the last line!!
    1. Privacy Policy
    We believe strongly in providing you notice of how we collect and use data, including personally identifiable information, from the Site. Therefore, we have adopted a Privacy Policy, linked from the bottom of each page of this Site, to which you should refer to fully understand how we collect and use information. You understand that through your use of this Site or the Services, you consent to the collection and use (as set forth in the Privacy Policy) of this information, including the transfer of this information to or from the United States for storage, processing and use by AnchorFree.

  2. o……k, yeh it’s definitely something that requires a complete investigation as to the what’s and who’s and how much information is collected by isps. I think isps Should track people’s usage, it goes without saying, in order to prevent crime and the many evils of the internet. However, this thing of using information in order to profit from it and delving where it is unnecessary in order to prevent crime etc. is just not on!
    Another area which blatantly lets us know that by using their “free” services we Pay with our privacy. Yes, I’m talking about these free web-mail providers of which everyone who uses the internet is aware of. Their privacy policies and terms of use and the newly added extra mail terms, make for some Interesting reading if you didn’t already know that they Read your E-mails and Instant Messages if you use their messengers, and the latest in their terms is how they have the right apparently to take “content” (whatever that involves) and use it in advertising or for affiliated 3rd parties to use it in advertising and god knows what else….dont be surprised if you spot your embarrassing pics on a billboard while on holidays somewhere ;) Yikes. Joking aside, their terms and disclaimers are very invasive and entangled and I think Illegal, they need investigating and regulation by an Independent Internet Consumer Body. Boy can she talk!!! ;)

  3. mark81295

    Well – I would have little confidence that the government will create effective legislation protecting privacy and consumer rights. Fortunately, consumers CAN take privacy in their own hands- and per the aforementioned post, WE all can use free encryption tools to prevent ISPs from seeing ANY data coming and going from our PCs. Expect to see companies’ continued innovation and capabilities on this front. Maybe this is all good- free market forces will guaruntee (in the long run) that consumers will benefit from their own personal information (not the utilities that already charge for service).

  4. Obviously! we can’t opt what we thing the other organization have forgotten that the Congress has created politic and economy and it is the farm of congress. Rest all of them came after congress.So they fail we expect.

  5. Obviously! No rational organisation goes before congress to argue against their interests. Additional regulation would involve compliance costs and prevent then pursing new business models.

    The issue is really that they are arguing that the public doesnt need (additional?) privacy laws. I’m afraid that it’s probably too late to expect privacy unless you use encryption and probably not even then most of the time.