Update: Comcast Stops Spying on Subscribers
Cable provider Comcast on Wednesday said it would stop tracking its users after coming under fire from subscribers and privacy advocates. "Beginning immediately, we will stop storing this individual customer information in order to completely reassure our customers that the privacy of their information is secure," said Comcast President Stephen Burke in a statement. Comcast acknowledged Tuesday that it had begun recording each Web site its subscribers visit and admitted to storing the data for days.
The comapny said the information was being used to optimize and improve the speed of its network. Passwords and credit card numbers transmitted to Web sites were among the information that was being stored into a giant database managed by Inktomi. Comcast says the information was being used to optimize and improve the speed of its network and such action is permitted under its service agreement with subscribers.
The move prompted an outcry from users and numerous privacy groups who warn the information could potentially put customers at risk and is a breach of privacy. Comcast said it will not share any data gathered about its customers and collects only that which is common practice in the industry. But AOL and EarthLink, the two largest Internet service providers in the United States, say they do not track which Web sites users visit and have no interest in doing so.
An Inktomi representative said Tuesday that much of the information collected by Comcast is "not needed" for optimizing its network.
Comcast spokesperson Tim Fitzpatrick told the Associated Press that the company stores the numerical IP address assigned to the subscriber and the IP address of the requested Web page. Although subscriber information is not stored with each record, it would be fairly easy to correlate the IP address with a customer name.
Transparent proxy servers are being rolled out to complete this task, requiring all Comcast users to browse the Web through a virtual middle man. Subscribers in Michigan learned of the switch the hard way, as a mis-configured server caused Web browsing to slow down to a crawl, many told BetaNews.
A link to Comcast's new High-Speed Internet subscriber agreement redirected to a "Not Found" page at press time. However, the company's older @Home agreement carries a similar clause regarding the collection of information.