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.
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.