Are Bundled Packages A Threat To Privacy?

The L.A. Times read the privacy policies of several bundled service providers and found that they are feverishly monitoring their subscriber’s activities. With the ability to monitor internet, phone, and television preferences, bundled service providers are able to track nearly every aspect of their subscriber’s digital lives. While Google retains personally identifiable for less than two years, some ISPs like Time Warner cling to your data for an astounding fifteen years in order to “comply with tax and accounting requirements.” It gets worse.

There are red flags to be found in each telecom provider’s privacy policy. A close reading of Time Warner’s policy reveals:

  • Along with knowing juicy details of your calling and viewing habits — those 900 numbers, say, or that subscription to the Playboy Channel — the company keeps track of “Internet addresses you contact and the duration of your visits to such addresses.”
  • Time Warner not only compiles “information about how often and how long” you’re online, but also “purchases that you have made” via the company’s Road Runner portal, which provides access to thousands of goods.
  • On top of that, the company may monitor “information you publish” via the Road Runner portal, which should send a chill through anyone who accesses his or her e-mail through Time Warner’s servers.
  • That’s not to say Time Warner or any other service provider is reading people’s e-mail or invading users’ privacy in any other way. The point is, they’re explicitly saying they could.

    The unchecked accumulation of consumer data represents a monumental threat to consumers. Data is collected to be used. Precision marketing is a relatively innocuous manifestation of data mining when compared to the nightmare scenarios envisioned by civil libertarians.

    Most troubling is that these revelations hid in broad daylight. The contracts signed by consumers are not secret, and yet nobody noticed that something was amiss until a reporter from the L.A. Times sat down and read the contract.

    Your loss of privacy is a package deal [L.A. Times]
    (Photo: ann-dabney)

    Comments

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    1. Cowboys_fan says:

      I knew I’d find an advantage to not bundling eventually.

    2. CurbRunner says:

      The article said that “We’re a bit closer to the Orwellian 1984″.

      As long as people are willingly choosing to buy into the illusion that “privacy” actually still exists anymore, it would be more correct to say that we have already surpassed the Orwellian concept and are into new territory.

    3. cde says:

      I’m all for fire and brimstone when it comes to privacy, but the fear and loathing here is too much. Specifically “On top of that, the company may monitor
      “information you publish” via the Road Runner portal, which should send a chill through anyone who accesses his or her e-mail through Time Warner’s servers.”
      What webhost (And that policy is most probably in regards to the 10megs or whatever webspace they give you) doesn’t? If you publish something online, its not private, and the company needs to be able to cover it’s own ass. You could be publishing porn/childporn/animalporn/unsavory stuff. Sure, moral reasons to shut down a page are bullshit, but even then, stuff like that are part of the REASONABLE section of TOS.

    4. badlydrawnjeff says:

      It appears my comment disappeared earlier. The problem may be that there’s the assumption that something’s amiss.

    5. Anonymous says:

      I think I am going to move and live in a cave.

    6. bohemian says:

      All of that data collection may seem like no big deal. But it could be creatively used against you at some point. If you run the wrong side of some person, company, employer. That information could be used to build some sort of case against you. Even if you didn’t do anything that could be considered wrong, lawyers are pretty good at twisting beneign things into some big issue to attack someone’s credibility.

      Something petty like ordering adult content can be turned into an attack on someone’s credibility or their person.

      It sounds a bit paranoid but I have seen lawyers take some trivial tidbit of someone’s personal life and blow it up into a huge character assassination.

    7. derobert says:

      Well, nice to learn today that literacy is apparently not a job requirement at the LA Times. “Information you publish” clearly can not refer to email because private communication is not publishing.

      As cdeat pointed it, out probably refers to stuff you publish on their web hosting service, etc.

    8. Sam says:

      Why does this only happen with bundled services? Why couldn’t a company that only provides you, say, cable internet monitor your activities on the Internet?

    9. FLConsumer says:

      FWIW, most cable TV boxes report back to the cable co which channels you’re watching, when, and for how long. Also, cable phone services also keep logs of which #’s you call and the cable cos DO sell this info to other companies. Call in a lot of pizza orders and suddenly start getting coupons from a pizza company? Now you know why.

      @Sam: When you bundle it, the company is able to put togther a much more “invasive” picture of things. Similar to my above example, imagine a company keeping track of who you call, which websites you view, and which television programmes you watch. For many people, that’d produce quite a telling story. Then imagine them selling that info. It’s happening, and it’s fully legal in the USA. Phone records used to be privileged info, but the law on that was reversed a year or two ago.

    10. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

      Right now, this information is being used in an annoying, albeit innocuous function. But when the gubbamint decides to stick their nose in, oooOOOOooo “Adios, muchachos”

      “We see you posted an anti-gubbamint comment on Consumerist last week, please come with us we have some Questions for you.”