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FTC Launches Investigation of ISP Privacy Policies

Phillip Dampier March 27, 2019 Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't No Comments

(Image by Brad Jonas originally for Pando.com)

The Federal Trade Commission has sent compulsory questionnaires to seven of the nation’s largest cable, phone, and wireless companies as it opens an examination of internet service provider privacy practices.

The orders were sent to: AT&T, AT&T Mobility, Comcast/Xfinity, Google Fiber, T-Mobile US, Verizon, and Verizon Wireless.

“The FTC is initiating this study to better understand internet service providers’ privacy practices in light of the evolution of telecommunications companies into vertically integrated platforms that also provide advertising-supported content,” the FTC wrote in a press release. “Under current law, the FTC has the ability to enforce against unfair and deceptive practices involving internet service providers.”

The FTC wants details about:

  • The categories of personal information collected about consumers or their devices, including the purpose for which the information is collected or used; the techniques for collecting such information; whether the information collected is shared with third parties; internal policies for access to such data; and how long the information is retained;
  • Whether the information is aggregated, anonymized or deidentified;
  • Copies of the companies’ notices and disclosures to consumers about their data collection practices;
  • Whether the companies offer consumers choices about the collection, retention, use and disclosure of personal information, and whether the companies have denied or degraded service to consumers who decline to opt-in to data collection; and
  • Procedures and processes for allowing consumers to access, correct, or delete their personal information.

While Congress has been focused on privacy issues affecting social media, the FTC is concerned that telecommunications companies may be collecting vast amounts of information from customers that could be sold or shared with partner companies. The agency wants to get a better understanding of exactly what kinds of information is being collected and how it is being used, especially as telecom companies acquire content companies which could use that information to display targeted online advertising.

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