MWC

US internet providers pledge not to sell customer browsing histories

Tim Maytom

US Congress Capitol Building
Three of the largest internet providers in the US, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, have announced that they will not sell customers’ individual internet browsing information, a few days after the US House of Representatives approved legislation that would roll back internet privacy protections established during the Obama administration.

If made law, the bill will repeal regulations adopted in October by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that require internet service providers and mobile networks to do more to protect customers’ privacy rights than online services like Google and Facebook.

Privacy advocates have been concerned over changes that the Trump administration may attempt to make to current legislation, particularly after President Trump appointed noted 'net neutrality' critic Ajit Pai as chairman of the FCC.

The repeal was narrowly passed by Republicans in Congress on Tuesday last week, despite strong opposition from Democrats and objections by privacy advocates. The passage of the bill was met with outcry on social media, and prompted fears that detailed individual internet histories would soon be available to the highest bidder.

“We do not sell our broadband customers’ individual web browsing history,” said Gerard Lewis, chief privacy officer at Comcast. “We did not do it before the FCC’s rules were adopted, and we have no plans to do so.” Lewis added that Comcast will be revising its privacy policy to make it clear that individual web browsing information will not be sold to third parties.

Verizon’s privacy officer Karen Zacharia made a blog post on Friday saying that the company currently has two internal programs active that use customer browsing data, one to enable marketers to access “de-identified information to determine which customers fit into groups that advertisers are trying to reach”, and another which “provides aggregate insights that might be useful for advertisers and other businesses”. However, the firm does not sell personal web browsing histories, and has no plans to do so in the future.

In a statement, AT&T said it “will not sell your personal information to anyone, for any purpose. Period” and that it would not change those policies should the bill be signed into law.

Republicans in Congress claimed that the current laws unfairly discriminate against internet providers, as websites are governed by a much less strict set of laws when it comes to data collection and use.

Jonathan Spalter, CEO of trade group USTelecom said in an opinion piece written on Friday that “browser history is already being aggregated and sold to advertising networks – by virtually every site you visit on the internet.”