You know, the cynic in us says that the answer to the question “Which ISPs Are Spying On You?” is “all of them,” but Wired actually bothered to ask the 8 largest ISPs about their data retention policies. The sad part? Only 4 responded.
AOL, AT&T, Cox and Qwest all responded to the survey, with a mix of timeliness and transparency.
But only Cox answered the question, “How long do you retain records of the IP addresses assigned to customers.”
These records can be used to trace an internet posting, website visit or an e-mail back to an ISP’s customers. The records are useful to police tracking down child-porn providers, and music-industry groups use them to sue file sharers. Companies have also used the records to track down anonymous posters who write unflattering comments in stock-trading boards.
Cox’s answer: six months. AOL says “limited period of time,” while AT&T says it varies across its internet-access offerings but that the time limits are all “within industry standards.”
Comcast, EarthLink, Verizon and Time Warner didn’t respond.
Some of the most sensitive information sent across an ISP’s network are the URLs of the websites that people visit. This so-called clickstream data includes every URL a customer visits, including URLs from search engines, which generally include the search term.
AOL, AT&T and Cox all say they don’t store these URLs at all, while Qwest dodged the question. Comcast, EarthLink, Verizon and Time Warner didn’t respond.
When asked if they allow marketers to see anonymized or partially-anonymized clickstream data, AOL, AT&T and Cox said they did not, while Qwest gave a muddled answer and declined to answer a follow-up question. Comcast, EarthLink, Verizon and Time Warner didn’t respond.
We challenge Comcast, EarthLink, Verizon and Time Warner to at least respond to Wired’s survey. It’s unacceptable not to have this information available to customers. —MEGHANN MARCO
Which ISPs Are Spying on You? [Wired] (Thanks, Grace!)