Consumer Watch: Are ISPs helping spies?

Cable's safeguards

Contrast this with the privacy policy for Comcast's high-speed Internet service (AT&T Yahoo's principal competitor in my neck of the woods). Read the policy here, and you'll find this sentence: "Comcast considers the personally identifiable information contained in our business records to be confidential." Sure, it's still part of a business record, but the whole tenor of the statement is markedly different from AT&T's pronouncement. And it's followed by a sentence in which Comcast says it can disclose a customer's personal information only in certain cases--to conduct business related to the customer's services, if "required by law or legal process," or for mailing lists (if the subscriber doesn't opt out).

Time Warner Cable's privacy policy page specifically references several laws that the policy complies with: The Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984, the Electronic Communications Policy Act of 1986, and the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act of 1998. In most regards, Time Warner Cable's privacy policy is similar to Comcast's.

"We have all kinds of privacy laws that don't make any sense," Schwartz says of the situation. "They're based on how the information is being communicated rather than the type of information."

An example of how privacy requirements vary based on the delivery mechanism has to do with video. The confidentiality of records of video rentals from Blockbuster and its competitors is strictly protected by the Video Privacy Protection Act of 1988 (enacted after a newspaper disclosed the video-rental records of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork). Schwartz says it's likely that law would also apply to DVD rentals from companies such as Netflix. But AT&T's video-on-demand transactions, which the company now classifies as business records, may not be covered by the law.

Privacy laws coming

U.S. Representatives Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) are working on bills to address these contradictions, and Senator Hillary Clinton (D-New York) has called for a privacy bill of rights. Schwartz says the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission are examining the issue. But for now, if you prefer to keep your Internet activities and video-viewing habits private, opt for cable.

Yardena Arar is a senior editor for PC World U.S. E-mail her at consumerwatch@pcworld.com.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Yardena Arar

PC World
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?