Most People Don't Realize Their ISPs Are Already Spying On Them

from the wake-up... dept

We recently wrote about how you should probably be more nervous about the data your ISP is collecting rather than what Google is collecting, because your ISP has access to a lot more data, and the data it has isn't data that you chose to give, as in the case of Google. Plus, ISPs have a long history of selling that data. Now, a new study is showing that most people have no idea that their ISPs track and sell their data, with many believing that an ISP would need to first let them know if they were doing that. In fact, many people are quite concerned about how that data would be used, not realizing that it's already being sold. And, of course, it's not just being sold to ad companies like NebuAd and Phorm, but to website tracking firms like Compete and Hitwise. And, even if that data is sold solely for the purpose of creating trend data, there's no reason that uses can't change over time. For example, the Register is noting that a recent patent lawsuit suggests that trend-tracking research firm Hitwise (which was recently bought by credit giant Experian) may be working on an advertising product as well, that also uses your clickstream data.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    EVIL_BASTARD, Oct 2nd, 2008 @ 6:00am

    The human capacity for douche-baggery knows no bounds!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Quoaz, Oct 2nd, 2008 @ 6:04am


    Now just watch as this article sparks a massive chain and someone there's a short story on one of the new stations about this.

    Its about time somebody tried to explain things to the stupid ones.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    I'm not voting for any of those assholes, Oct 2nd, 2008 @ 6:05am

    It's no, she's a bitch.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    NullOp, Oct 2nd, 2008 @ 6:16am


    Ha! You didn't think the few bucks you gave your ISP was going to do it for them did you? Your clicks are gold to them and advertisers. So, strike a blow for freedom and be sure to visit some worthless sites every day! Better yet, write a script that loads weird webpages while you're at work. Its always fun to game-the-gamers...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    James Bond, Oct 2nd, 2008 @ 6:28am

    Shaken, not Stirred

    My click stream data is of little use to them as I do not see their ads. There are some websites that require javascript, cookies, flash, etc in order to function but I do not need to use their services and when I do want to use their services, it is easy to turn on that spyware for the short period it is needed.

    It is amazing how many business plans are based upon a captive audience and do not consider whether their actions are objectionable because they think there is nothing the consumer can do about it.

    Sure, most people do not avoid the constant barrage of ads. They just try to ignore them. I've seen people move the browser off the right of the screen in order to not be bothered by the flash ads.

    It is ridiculous what some businesses consider to be good advertising.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Harry, Oct 2nd, 2008 @ 6:48am

    Re: Shaken, not Stirred

    It's not about ads. Hitwise and Compete are looking at what sites you're visiting. They are basically taking all of their subscribers browsing history, every single page they look at, and aggregating that into what they consider a representation of the rest of the US's browsing patterns.

    So, when they do a press release talking about how 68% of the US uses Google, what they are really saying is 68% of the ISPs users that they buy the data from used Google. And they know what site you went to from there, how long you spent, demographic info, etc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Harry, Oct 2nd, 2008 @ 6:49am

    Re: Shaken, not Stirred

    Sorry, just realized you were referring to the last line of the blog. So, you're correct there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Twinrova, Oct 2nd, 2008 @ 7:20am

    A useless jab at Mike, but what the hell.

    What does it matter, Mike, when ads are content? ;)

    Okay, in all reality, this isn't big news nor should it be something people should be concerned with. Your life is tracked in every aspect, and this is no different.

    Do you have loans? Tracked.
    Do you use a debit/credit card? Tracked.
    Do you subscribe to magazines? Tracked.
    Do you watch TV via cable/satellite? Tracked.

    What's important to realize here is that personal information is rarely sold. ISPs, legally, can not sell your data attached to your name.

    I'm not at all surprised ISPs sell my visit information. Hell, I've lived with a credit report I have no control over since first establishing credit, so why should this be any different? (note: prescreen reports are equivalent to ISP data - no personal info, but lots of information).

    By the way, does Techdirt track referrer information? Does it sell it to those advertisers it supports via the side bar ads?

    Ooooh, that's got you thinking now, doesn't it? ;)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    Jim Gaudet (profile), Oct 2nd, 2008 @ 8:09am

    Let's worry more about what the GOV does with our info

    Have you heard of the Polk Database? I worked for a company that paid for a copy of this, which is available every quarter.

    This info has everything you want to know about a person, and an IT guy with access can find anything. All the data on where you live, how much money you make what kind of car you own. EVERYTHING!!

    Mix that with what the ISPs have (OUr click data and where we visit) and you know everything you need to know about a person.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Dirty harry, Oct 2nd, 2008 @ 8:12am


    Mr. Masnick-
    I get the Techdirt news feed through my iGoogle homepage, and i find that your articles present an interesting, if not repetitive point of view. But I'm afraid that i have to agree with twinrova here, so what. As someone who regularly pines about alternative business models being squelched by legislation and market competition couldn't one argue that any attempt to stop isp's from tracking and selling data would not only drive up the cost of internet access, but also require legislation that would squelch an alternative business model?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    ModestOne, Oct 2nd, 2008 @ 8:26am

    at least...

    As one of two network admins, in a medium sized ISP/Cable company, I can confidently say that we do absolutely ZERO data collection on our customers traffic.

    The reason being that when you start looking at peoples traffic, you begin to be liable if there are illegal things happening, and you do not report them.

    I tend to think that data collection on the ISP front is possibly happening, especially in the mobile markets, but I do not believe that it is as large of a scale as this article leads one to believe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    another mike, Oct 2nd, 2008 @ 12:17pm

    privacy policy and clickstream

    I had an ISP that said flat-out that they sell off your clickstream data "to deliver the best service available at the lowest cost." They even said so in the privacy policy. Heh, they implemented "the" privacy policy just like the one California made the Google link to on their homepage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Mike, Oct 2nd, 2008 @ 3:39pm

    not some

    Thanks for pointing this out. Your data is for sale...not to the highest bidder, but again and again until it's old.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 2nd, 2008 @ 8:40pm


    Who was it that said something like "if you ignore the ads then you are stealing the internet"

    and the guy who said if you go to the bathroom during the commercial, you are stealing television ....

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Sandy Cosser, Oct 3rd, 2008 @ 5:52am

    Privacy and advertising

    If ISPs already collect and use our data, what's the big deal with companies like Phorm, BT Webwise and NebuAd collecting data to make advertising more relevant to users?

    At least we know that these companies have privacy policies in place to protect users, and in the case of Phorm, these policies are revolutionary. p;start=-1&ct=null

    Data collection is the price we pay for highly targeted and relevant ads. I pay it gladly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Dr.Bred, Oct 4th, 2008 @ 12:42pm

    this is not a secret

    internet services providers logging every click from a user and storing it, thats nothing new. google is a additional data-theft. maybe they dont sell it official, but iam sure they will sell it over other ways. in the future private data is a high dangerous thing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Pete, Oct 26th, 2008 @ 1:33pm

    This is a crime

    ISPs who do this are committing mass industrial espionage, stripping customers away from eCommerce sites and web sites by monitoring their interactions with customers.

    And committing mass copyright theft, stealing the content of web pages 'off the wire' without the knowledge or consent of the author.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    LelandHendrix, May 6th, 2010 @ 2:41am

    Re: A useless jab at Mike, but what the hell.

    I'll tell you how it's different...

    It is far too similar to recording telephone conversations and then selling them, without the user's consent.

    Sure, it may be anonymized, but it is still private information that users should be required to opt in or at LEAST be able to opt out of.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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