As you’ve likely heard by now, Congress voted earlier this week to reverse FCC rules that prevented internet service providers from selling personal customer data like browsing history. Understandably, many Americans are upset by this. Now several ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon are getting proactive in reassuring customers that their privacy matters, releasing statements that say they will not be selling users’ internet browsing data.
The alarm over the change in FCC privacy rules boils down to the face that ISPs are free to sell their customers’ internet browsing history as they see fit, with no need to get permission or even notify users that they do this. As three of the biggest ISPs in the US, Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon have released statements about their privacy policies, with the hope they will prevent any customer outrage.
“We do not sell our broadband customers’ individual web browsing history. We did not do it before the FCC’s rules were adopted, and we have no plans to do so.” — Gerard Lewis, Senior Vice President, Deputy General Counsel & Chief Privacy Officer
“AT&T’s privacy protections are the same today as they were five months ago when the FCC rules were adopted. [We] will not sell your personal information to anyone, for any purpose. Period.” — Bob Quinn, Senior Executive Vice President, External and Legislative Affairs
“Verizon does not sell the personal web browsing history of our customers. We don’t do it and that’s the bottom line.” — Karen Zacharia, Chief Privacy Officer
While all this may sound reassuring, there is one huge caveat: all three companies are emphasizing that they won’t sell personal browsing history. What they can and are free to do is sell non-personally identifiable information, or large amounts of aggregated data that has had names and other specific identifiers removed.
In other words, ISPs can still sell their users’ data, which includes browsing history and app usage, to a highest bidder. That data may not have users’ names attached to it, but once sold, it becomes the property of the buyer, who can then use it with data they’ve collected from other sources for targeted advertising purposes.
The larger problem, however, is that even if the ISPs are telling the truth with these misleading statements, the new FCC rules mean they can change their privacy policies down the line and have no requirement to notify users or give them the chance to opt-out.