Major Internet Service Providers collecting ‘troves’ of customers’ personal data, FTC report finds

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A new government report found that companies like Verizon and AT&T are collecting and sharing more of their customers’ personal data than many expect.

The Federal Trade Commission staff report on ISP’s data collecting and use practices goes on to say these companies often fail to offer consumers any meaningful choices about how the data can be used.

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“We found interfaces that buried or hid certain choices from consumers,” FTC Attorney Andrea Arias said. “We even found unclear toggle settings that led to the selection of unintended privacy settings.”

The report says even though several internet service providers promise not to tell consumer personal data, they may still allow that information to be used in other ways without the consumer’s knowledge.

For example, the information can still be used for targeted ads.

“Many of the ISP’s in our study group consumers using sensitive characteristics including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, economic status, political affiliation, or religious beliefs to target ads,” Arias said.

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Protecting user privacy online has been a bipartisan issue on Capitol Hill this year.

“The need for strong data privacy rules has become more urgent,” Republican Senator from Mississippi Roger Wicker said.

Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington agreed, the companies collecting the information aren’t doing enough.

The FTC report calls for more restrictions on data collection. It also raises concerns about how long companies store personal information.

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They may promise to keep it only for as long as needed for business purposes, but it’s a broad definition that can vary from company to company.

Several ISPs said they support lawmakers establishing federal legislation to address online privacy concerns with a spokesperson for USTelecom saying: “As the FTC has called for numerous times, and as previously urged by USTelecom, Congress must enact a national, comprehensive federal privacy framework that puts consumers first and applies uniformly to all companies operating online.”

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