FTC study: ISPs share far more user data than you’d expect

Privacy news
2 mins

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has just released a report with its findings on how much consumer data is collected by internet service providers and how that data is used. In case you had doubts over just how invasive ISPs’ data collection practices were, this study confirms fears that they not only collect a large amount of their customers’ data, but that data is in turn used to help third parties target their ads.

ISPs often are tech conglomerates—with the data-gathering to match

Major internet providers in the U.S.—such as AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast—are not often spoken of as data-hungry Big Tech companies, but the FTC’s report makes no bones about the similarities. “Many of the ISPs in this study are not simply providers of internet connectivity,” the report reads, “they are technology giants.” 

Companies that have multiple product lines can consolidate the data they gather from different businesses. If a company that serves as an ISP also, say, provides streaming services and makes IoT devices, it can combine the data it’s collected to form a more comprehensive picture of an individual customer.

The study also found that among the ISPs the FTC investigated, some of them:

  • Collect data that is not necessary for providing internet service
  • Share real-time location data with third parties
  • Use web browsing data for targeting ads to consumers
  • Use consumers’ sensitive data (characteristics like race, sexual orientation, political affiliation, and religious beliefs) for ad targeting on behalf of third parties

The report points out that the mass data collection by ISPs could have serious consequences for consumers, such as discrimination by property agents or even the risk of physical danger if physical locations are revealed.

The FTC also mentions that the nature of an ISP’s service might amplify the privacy challenges: Many ISPs have access to 100% of their users’ unencrypted internet traffic and can track them across websites and geographic locations.

The easiest answer: A VPN

If we do say so ourselves.

Simply download a VPN app like ExpressVPN and turn it on. When you connect to a VPN server, you are masking your IP address and location, with your internet traffic protected by an encrypted tunnel. Your ISP won’t be able to see what you’re doing online, and they won’t be able to track your browsing or gather personal information from your internet activity.

More resources on ISP data collection and protecting your privacy:

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Vanessa is an editor of the blog.