Which ISPs Are Spying On You?

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.

From Wired:

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!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. BillyShears says:

    Given the whole NSA Intertubes spying thing, I’m having a REAL hard time believing that AT&T is being honest in their answers.

  2. Never forget these are the same providers that:

    1. Refuse to tell customers the limits of their unlimited plans.

    2. Decide customers MUST be doing something illegal if they are downloading a grunch of data.

  3. LAGirl says:

    i just assume that every website i visit, Google search i do, email i send and phone call i make is being monitored by someone, somewhere in an unmarked government van.

  4. othium says:

    The government uses private companies to spy on individuals in order to sidestep the legal requirements.

    I treat everything I send out over the internet and download as if there were someone watching over my shoulder while I do it. The way individual privacy rights are eroded daily in this country is apalling.

    I wonder if having an encrypted drive and using a TOR network would help?

  5. gfunk842 says:

    The building I live in uses a third party ISP called MDU Communcations (http://www.mduc.com/).

    Not only is their customer service below average in general, but I can say from first hand experience that they are spying on me. 2 weeks ago they shut off my service without notification because of alleged “copyrighted material” found in my bittorrent traffic. Again, I was NOT NOTIFIED that there was a problem or that they would turn off my service, they just did it and I had to call and get through all their customer service just to find out what the problem was. I was told it would be turned on within the hour and that I would not be charged a reconnection fee, of course it took 2 more phone calls and 5 more days.

  6. tvstand says:

    Maybe it’s time that people found out about Attention Trust:


    They’re out there trying to protect our data.

    Ars Technica wrote about this a while ago.


  7. Slytherin says:

    Well, thank God I have Cox!

  8. Fuzzy_duffel_bag says:

    my Time Warner internet doesn’t work consistently enough for me to get up to anything worth spying on.

  9. etinterrapax says:

    Damn. They’re going to know about how I cheat on the NYT crossword with Wikipedia.

  10. FLConsumer says:

    @othium: TOR’s not the answer, especially if you’re letting other people use your connection for their browsing. A law enforcement friend says that many pedophiles have moved over to that network, and that’s not something you want originating from your IP.

  11. tedyc03 says:

    Friend of mine downloaded something on BitTorrent using Comcast. He got a letter in the mail identifying the file and informing him that if he did it again, they’d shut down service and notify the FBI.

    So nice, over at Comcast.

  12. gorckat says:

    Verizon does try to run some ‘Motive SmartBridge’ thing. Its supposed to help with troubleshooting…but the info it supposedly gathers includes stuff they either already have or ask for when you call them.

    I forget the details, but I think I managed to nuke the program via SpyBot, ZoneAlarm blocking and maybe even HiJack This…

  13. ribex says:


    Surely this was not the first or only time that your friend downloaded something using a torrent. Seems rather unlikely. Just a hunch.

    Not all files downloaded through torrents are illegal…I can make a document or a movie or a collection of photos, create a torrent from it, and share with other people.

    (Not that I support Comcast’s actions, by any means!!!)

  14. syndesis says:

    The Time Warner standard is to keep IP data around for 90 days. I believe that is a legal requirement in order to be able to respond to the subpoenas they receive from the RIAA etc.

    They don’t store URLs (clickstream data) at all.

  15. Xkeeper says:

    More reason to love Cox, I guess :P

  16. brendahamLincoln says:

    Mmm, Cox…

  17. pestie says:

    He loves the Cox!

  18. Papa Midnight says:

    FOI Act anyone? Or does that not apply. I personally don’t see how consumers using a companies services shouldn’t be allowed to know how much of their information is being disclosed. If the Freedom of Information act is applicable, I’d like to see it used…