Comcast Insists It's An Innocent Little Daisy On Consumer Privacy

from the zero-credibility-left dept

Both Mozilla and Google have begun pushing encrypted DNS via their respective browsers, making it more difficult for outsiders to monitor and/or monetize your daily browsing habits. Not too surprisingly the broadband industry, which has a long, proud history of covertly collecting and selling this data, isn’t particularly happy about this evolution. With the help of unskeptical news outlets, telecom lobbyists have been trying to convince the government that what Mozilla and Google are up to is somehow nefarious, going so far as to (incorrectly) claim the move is even an antitrust violation.

Last week, Motherboard published Comcast documents highlighting how Comcast has been also trying to convince gullible lawmakers that the move to encrypt DNS traffic somehow poses a threat to national security and the sacred DC tech policy pixie dust that is 5G:

“The unilateral centralization of DNS raises serious policy issues relating to cybersecurity, privacy, antitrust, national security and law enforcement, network performance and service quality (including 5G), and other areas,” Comcast said in the presentation. “Congress should demand that Google pause and answer key questions,” a section of the presentation reads. “Why is Google in such a rush?” reads another.

But Comcast’s claims are false. Neither Google nor Mozilla are forcing their browser users to do anything. Users are simply being presented with the option to encrypt their DNS traffic — if their current DNS provider supports it. The move would not switch users to Google’s DNS servers by default, either, so the centralization claim is false. In short, you’ll be surprised to learn, Comcast is lying about what the proposal will do. Why? It makes it harder for the telecom sector to spy on — and monetize — your daily browsing behavior.

In the wake of the leak, Comcast published a new blog post attempting to frame itself as an innocent little daisy on consumer privacy issues, going well afield to pretend that it doesn’t actually monetize its users data:

“We play an important role as an Internet Service Provider in connecting you to whatever you want to do online. Whether you?re browsing the Internet or managing your connected home, we?re always working to protect your privacy and keep your information secure. We?re in the business of giving you a great Internet experience with products and services like xFi?s parental and WiFi control features; we are not in the business of selling your information.”

The blog post is painfully careful with word choice as the company attempts to pretend it doesn’t monetize user data. For example throughout the post Comcast carefully insists it doesn’t track the websites you visit “through your broadband connection,” though it’s possible to track that same data at the heart of Comcast’s network (technically not “your connection”). Similarly, Comcast insists it “deletes the DNS queries generated by our Internet customers every 24 hours,” even though 24 hours remains plenty of time to monetize that data. And the company insists it doesn’t “sell information that identifies who you are to anyone” — an obvious nod to the fact that Comcast anonymizes this data first before selling it (researchers have long noted this data isn’t really anonymous).

As Comcast attempts to vilify efforts to secure DNS, it’s attempting to lean on privacy credibility it doesn’t actually have. If Comcast’s such a big fan of privacy, why did it lobby ferociously to eliminate modest and popular FCC broadband privacy rules in 2016? Comcast has also expressed interest in charging users more money to protect their privacy, in effect making privacy a luxury option. Privacy has long been the last thing on the mind of most major telecom players, who’ve historically seen zero real oversight as they repeatedly lie about what they do with subscriber data.

Even if Comcast was being honest here (which researchers, Google, Mozilla, and consumer groups all say they’re not), between the privacy and net neutrality fights, the company has made it abundantly clear it no longer has serious credibility on policy issues. Meaning that even if Comcast engineers had legitimate concerns with how encrypted DNS is being implemented, the company’s repeated policy falsehoods have ensured nobody’s going to be believing them anytime soon.

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Companies: comcast

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Comments on “Comcast Insists It's An Innocent Little Daisy On Consumer Privacy”

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38 Comments
Anon says:

The Key Point

As mentioned the vehicle isn’t going anywhere. There is no reason not to wait for a warrant. A vehicle that was travelling at an excessive rate of speed – the evidence should be obvious enough from the trail it left of skid marks etc., plus the degree of damage to the vehicle, a person with a moderate amount of expertise in traffic accidents should be able to assert there was reasonable chance it was travelling at an excessive rate.

But this I the key of the fourth amendment – the police can’t simply go on a fishing expedition. If they want to know whether your vehicle was speeding – they need to explain to a judge why they think so, what they can see that ells them the evidence may back them up. If they want your cell records, they should explain to the judge why there is cause to believe distracted driving may be a factor. If they believe alcohol or drugs were a factor, they should be able to explain that to a judge (but many jurisdictions allow them to bypass this step).

It’s a matter of looking at an incident and piecing together relevant evidence, not "grab all the data you can and we’ll look for reasons after". This isn’t a Seal Team raid.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Yeah, but Google

Yes you do have to trust your cryptographic library implementer to not have a backbdoor.
However with Modzillla (and to some degree Google) you are free to change how the implementation works, or look for/fix backdoors.
Good luck fixing your ISP to not do bad things with your data.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Yeah, but Google

Isn’t this just shifting who gets to monetize our personal data??

Not quite. Encrypting DNS does not prevent an ISP from figuring out where you are going. It just makes it a bit harder. Reverse-DNS look-ups are still possible, and if the site traffic is unencrypted (or improperly encrypted) deep-packet inspection is also a possibility.

Paul B says:

Re: Re: Yeah, but Google

Even with out being able to look at the packet, you can tell data by frequency and size of the data being transmitted. Gamers often use UDP with lots of small packets. Movies buffer huge amounts of data then drip feed. Bittorrent connects to hundreds of addresses all at once.

Given time I can tell what your doing even without knowing anymore then the packet size and frequency.

Federico (profile) says:

One clear benefit

There are various arguments to be made on default DNS-over-HTTPS:
https://blog.apnic.net/2019/10/03/opinion-centralized-doh-is-bad-for-privacy-in-2019-and-beyond/

However, if Comcast complains so loudly, that’s enough to convince me that it’s probably a good move in terms of making life harder for at least one category of bad actors.

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Anonymous Coward says:

I’m also wondering if, besides the potential DNS snooping, somebody realized that it would poke a larger hole in the argument they offered against Title II classification.

I mean, if your ISP is no longer handling your DNS queries, and thus isn’t able to handle any sort of caching, the only thing they can be is a set of dumb pipes.

ECA (profile) says:

Love advantages..

Who has the advantage to Sell your history here??
ISP, google, Amazon?
Explorer, Fire fox, chrome, safari????

Why did so many QUIT Explorer?? because MS was selling a license for $99, that would allow any site to read the Explorer data, just from going to a site..

I would love a Background program/script that would CHANGE the data sent to these idiots, PLEASE. and now give me Ajit Pies, Basic info..
What a way to Bomb people.. we could have this crap going anyplace we needed..MORE SPAM..MORE PORN(the safest sites out there)

Baboli says:

Ask yourself a simple question: Who is in the business or collecting and selling your personal information, Google or Comcast? Also look at who funds the Mozilla Foundation, Google or Comcast to see a big conflict of interest there.

The answer is simple. ISPs like Comcast have no incentive to collect, mine and sell your data because their business model is built on a monthly subscription service. Customers pay upfront every month. Google on the other end, the poster boy of surveillance capitalism, has a huge business incentive to collect and monetize your DNS traffic, like it does with the rest of the user data it collects on ALL of its services.

Tim Cook said it best: “If you are a Google product user, YOU ARE THE PRODUCT!”

I do trust my ISP a lot more than I trust Google or Facebook or any of the big tech companies when it comes to my privacy and security online. Period.

Baboli says:

Ask yourself a simple question: Who is in the business or collecting and selling your personal information, Google or Comcast? Also look at who funds the Mozilla Foundation, Google or Comcast to see a big conflict of interest there.

The answer is simple. ISPs like Comcast have no incentive to collect, mine and sell your data because their business model is built on a monthly subscription service. Customers pay upfront every month. Google on the other end, the poster boy of surveillance capitalism, has a huge business incentive to collect and monetize your DNS traffic, like it does with the rest of the user data it collects on ALL of its services.

Tim Cook said it best: “If you are a Google product user, YOU ARE THE PRODUCT!”

I do trust my ISP a lot more than I trust Google or Facebook or any of the big tech companies when it comes to my privacy and security online. Period.

Toom1275 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Who is in the business or collecting and selling your personal information, Google or Comcast?

Both, but with Google you at least have the choice of blocking some of it.

ISPs like Comcast have no incentive to collect, mine and sell your data

[Asserts facts contrary to reality]

Google on the other end, … has a huge business incentive to collect and monetize your DNS traffic,

Irrelevant when you’re not using Google as your DNS

I do trust my ISP a lot more than I trust Google or Facebook or any of the big tech companies when it comes to my privacy and security online. Period.

Idiot confirmed

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