Major ISPs insist they won’t sell users’ browsing history

Following outrage over privacy vote and surge of interest in VPNs

You’re unlikely to have missed all the controversy since politicians voted to overturn the FCC’s privacy regulations that prevent ISPs from sharing users’ browser data, and neither have major ISPs themselves, with the firms now rushing to clarify that they will not be selling your personal web browsing information.

As Reuters reports, Comcast, Verizon and AT&T have all come forward in one manner or another to make statements and assurances that they won’t sell individually identifiable personal browsing history details.

Gerard Lewis, Comcast’s chief privacy officer, noted: “We do not sell our broadband customers’ individual web browsing history. We did not do it before the FCC’s rules were adopted, and we have no plans to do so.”

Lewis also said that the ISP was currently revising its privacy policy to clearly state that individual web browsing information is not sold to third-parties.

AT&T said that it will not be changing its privacy policy as a result of the rules being cast aside, and this already clearly states that the company “will not sell your personal information to anyone, for any purpose. Period”.

As for Verizon, spokesman Richard Young told Reuters that the ISP does not sell the personal browsing histories of its users and has ‘no plans’ to do so in the future.

In a blog post, Karen Zacharia, chief privacy officer at Verizon, said: “Let’s set the record straight. Verizon does not sell the personal web browsing history of our customers. We don’t do it and that’s the bottom line.

“Verizon is fully committed to the privacy of our customers. We value the trust our customers have in us so protecting the privacy of customer information is a core priority for us.”

Web browsers anonymous

Zacharia did further note, however, that Verizon does use ‘de-identified information’ and ‘aggregate insights’ in conjunction with advertisers and third-parties, but obviously that’s anonymous data about web usage. And she noted that customers have a choice about whether to participate in the two programs Verizon runs which use said aggregated data.

This is, of course, the key point for all service providers – they do make use of browsing data for advertising and other purposes, but this is anonymized data, not personally tied to any individual user.

Of course, these assurances are unlikely to do much to placate the likes of Senator for Massachusetts, Ed Markey, who commented on the reversing of the FCC’s regulations: “President Trump may be outraged by fake violations of his own privacy, but every American should be alarmed by the very real violation of privacy that will result [from] the Republican roll-back of broadband privacy protections.”

And indeed the same is likely true of the many people now searching for a VPN, feeling the need to better protect their online privacy.