Congress and the FCC have given Internet Service Providers (ISPs) the right to collect and sell your internet browsing data. You’re right to think this is a violation of your privacy, and risks putting your personal data in the hands of companies and people you don’t know. It is, and that will certainly happen.
There are things you can do to protect yourself. The first and probably most effective option, is to use a VPN. However, that costs money, and adds a layer of technical complexity to your internet setup. While I recommend using a VPN, I recognize that they’re not for everyone.
Opt-out of Your ISP’s Data Collection
Your ISP wants to collect and sell your internet browsing data. However, most ISPs offer their customers the choice to opt-out of their data collection.
Opting-out of data collection isn’t a guarantee of privacy, and it’s generally less effective than a VPN. For example, your ISP will still have logs of all the sites you visit, whether they sell that information or not. For you though, it’s better they have a little information about you than a lot of information about you.
Since finding where you can opt-out of data collection is often difficult, I tried to do some of the legwork for you. What follows are opt-out links for several redidential broadband and wireless internet providers.
AT&T uses a CPNI (Customer Proprietary Network Information) to understand your internet browsing habits. You can opt-out of its use.
The following paragraph makes the previous one even more severe. It says that your personal data will be retained as long as it’s profitable.
Charter will maintain personally identifiable information about You as long as You are a subscriber to Charter's Service and as long as necessary for the purpose for which it was collected. If You are no longer a subscriber to any Charter Service and the information is no longer necessary for the purpose for which it was collected…
Comcast - XFINITY
NAI’s collection can’t be controlled by an account preference. They install cookies in your browser like a lot of other ad networks. There’s little point in opting-out, because you’d need to do it more than once: every time your browser cache is cleared.
Rather than opting-out with NAI, you can instead install a content blocker or ad blocker (different terms to describe the same thing). It’s a more effective solution to a persistent problem. Content blockers will be covered separately, in another post.
Time Warner uses a CPNI (Customer Proprietary Network Information) to learn about your internet usage habits. You can opt-out of its use.
If you don’t want your CPNI used for the marketing purposes described above, please notify us by phone any time at 1-800-333-9956, online at www.vzw.com/myprivacy or through Customer Service at 1-800-922-0204 from Monday - Friday 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Saturday - Sunday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
You can opt-out through the AT&T Wireless mobile app or through AT&T Wireless’ website. Once logged-in, select Wireless under Relevant Advertising. Then, check all the boxes: one for each line on your plan.
Sprint deserves some credit. Their data collection is opt-in, meaning that you have to give them your permission, before they’ll collect and sell your data. Sprint’s press release from 2014 explains their position.
When you use your Sprint-service wireless device, you see ads displayed on websites and applications that you access with your device. Through Sprint’s Mobile Advertising Program, we are now offering you the opportunity to have Sprint and its advertising partners provide you with ads that are more relevant to your interests in place of the generic, random ads you might otherwise receive. You must opt-in to this program in order to participate. Under this program, we use the information we collect to provide you wireless service, such as information about the websites you visit and the mobile applications you use on your Sprint-service wireless device, in order to serve you more relevant advertisements.
You can check your current privacy selections on Sprint’s My Choices page.
Like Sprint, T-Mobile also gets some credit. They explain their data collection in plan language. They also link to a page, where you can opt-out of interest based advertising.
Verizon owns AOL. You’ll see references to AOL throughout their explanation of their Relevant Mobile Advertising Program.
The advertising program uses online and device identifiers including AOL browser cookies, advertising IDs from Apple and Google, and one created by Verizon, known as a Unique Identifier Header or UIDH. We do not share information that identifies you personally as part of this program other than with vendors and partners who do work for us. We require that these vendors and partners protect the information and use it only for the services they are providing us.
You can use the privacy choices link to opt-out of Verizon Wireless data collection.
Read carefully, and be patient. If you get stuck, call your provider. Have them walk you through the process of opting-out.