Internet service providers are in an awkward spot. After getting all dressed up for the sell-your-data dance, it turns out they’ll be staying home.
Or so they claim.
Reuters reports that representatives from Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T all came out today to assure worried consumers that the companies will not in fact sell customers’ browsing histories to the highest bidder.
“We do not sell our broadband customers’ individual web browsing history,” writes Comcast Chief Privacy Officer Gerard Lewis . “We did not do it before the FCC’s rules were adopted, and we have no plans to do so.”
But should we trust Lewis and his counterparts at AT&T and Verizon?
The denials were issued after the House and Senate voted to repeal landmark consumer privacy rules passed in 2016 that would have blocked internet service providers from selling the browsing history of their customers.
The public backlash has been strong — people are even donating to GoFundMes seeking to buy the browsing histories of members of Congress (although the success of those efforts is very much in doubt as no one is currently selling a “Congress’s Browsing History” package deal) — and major ISPs are rushing to tell everyone that hey hey hey, we’re the good guys here.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Kate Tummarello points out the obvious incongruity of ISPs denying that they plan to take advantage of the new privacy landscape when those same companies lobbied so hard to bring it about.
“Those rules were a huge victory for consumers,” Tummarello wrote on the EFF blog of the to-be-repealed rules. “Of course, the ISPs that stand to make money off of violating your privacy have been lobbying Congress to repeal those rules. Unfortunately, their anti-consumer push has been working.”
What’s more, it’s not like internet service providers haven’t creeped hard on customers before. They most certainly have.
“Consumers have every reason to be skeptical about what the ISPs say,” the EFF’s Karen Gullo wrote to Mashable, “because, as we have pointed out, they have already tried many of the practices — including hijacking your searches — that they are now allowed to do thanks to the party-line vote in Congress.”
Spokespersons for Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T can proclaim their devotion to your privacy all they want, but if the past is any indication you’d be right to remain skeptical.
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