(Washington, D.C.) — The Federal Trade Commission issued shocking findings on internet service providers’ privacy practices, including that companies profile their customers and target advertisements on the basis of race and other protected characteristics, on Thursday. The findings are part of a report studying how much personal data six large internet service providers (ISPs) collect on their users and how ISPs use that data in privacy-invasive ways.
“Internet Service Providers are gatekeepers to all communications and nondiscriminatory use of their services is vital to equal opportunity in a modern, Internet-centric economy. They must not be allowed to abuse their privileged access to consumers’ data to engage in race discrimination and other forms of digital redlining.”
“[T]his form of ‘digital redlining’ could reverse any progress on civil rights issues if a business is able to discriminate in its advertising buys based on, for example, a person’s color or religion,” the FTC wrote. “Even where businesses do not intend to discriminate, certain uses of consumers’ personal information could disparately impact certain groups.”
The FTC studied the privacy and data practices of the six largest ISPs: AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Charter, Comcast, T-Mobile, and Google Fiber. Several of the FTC’s findings raise serious concerns that these companies may be violating the civil rights of their users, including:
- Many ISPs use race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and political affiliation to target advertisements to their customers.
- Many ISPs share real-time location data of their customers with third parties.
- Some ISPs collect and use sensitive data that consumers do not expect, such as email contents, detailed web browsing, and TV viewing data, and track users across multiple devices. This information can be used in discriminatory and harmful ways, for example by bail bondsmen, landlords, and bounty hunters.
- ISPs do not adequately inform customers about their data practices, do not allow customers to access their data, and do not give customers real controls over their data.
- ISPs can be at least as privacy-intrusive as large tech companies like Facebook, Google, and Amazon.
Read the full FTC report here.
About the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, was formed in 1963 at the request of President John F. Kennedy to involve the private bar in providing legal services to address racial discrimination. The principal mission of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is to secure, through the rule of law, equal justice for all, particularly in the areas of voting rights, criminal justice, fair housing and community development, economic justice, educational opportunities, and hate crimes. For more information, please visit https://lawyerscommittee.org.