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Comcast To Stop Tracking Users' Web Habits 181

jdavidb writes "According to this article, Comcast will no longer keep track of what its users view online." Good.
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Comcast To Stop Tracking Users' Web Habits

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  • by sulli ( 195030 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @04:19PM (#3002380) Journal
    • Heh, heh. Karma whore that I am (and having a job to do, besides), I was rather minimalist in my story. I thought Taco's comment was pretty good, too. (Made me wonder if he was making fun of my writing style.)

      Nobody really talked much about this. Somehow I'm always able to pick the stories that the editors will love but that will put the readers to sleep.

  • That just means they are not reporting it to other people. You can be guaranteed the still mornitor it and use it internally.


  • It's bout time Comcast gave their users some peace. In fact, no company should ever be allowed to track users. For what we know, a lot of popular ISPs could be doing it right now.
    • Re:Privacy, finally! (Score:3, Informative)

      by Digital11 ( 152445 )
      As if this hasn't been covered enough... But ISP's inherently track users. Pretty much every request is logged, its part of the business, get used to it. However, its not the tracking thats the problem, its what they do with it. If all that information does is sit in a log file until subpoena'd (or until the end of time, whichever comes first) then it does no harm. But ComCast was sharing (read: selling) the information to its valued associates. That's a big dirty no-no.
      • Re:Privacy, finally! (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Prong ( 190135 )
        Pretty much every request is logged, its part of the business, get used to it.

        Uh, connections to an ISP's network are logged, along with access to ISP owned services like mail servers. AFAIK, nobody is logging every connection to outside networks. If you can prove otherwise, I'd love to see it.

        While we're on the subject, this sort of crap is exactly why I dislike being forced to use the servers provided by my ISP. As far as I'm concerned, I'm paying for a pipe. I'd rather have my bandwidth throttled than be forced to use proxy servers.
  • now i don't have to worry about them sending my room mate (whose name is on the account) spam based on my surfing habits.
    • Re:kick ass (Score:3, Insightful)

      by iangoldby ( 552781 )
      Joking aside, I think this touches on a key point. It's not whether they have the information, but what they choose to do with it.

      I don't particularly care if an ISP is logging my every move, as long as they don't use this information to as an excuse to send me more uninteresting junk email than they do already. Which is odd really, because I would have thought they would be more likely to send me offers I am interested in if they know what sort of things interest me.

      Let's face it - most advertising these days is rubbish. I almost never see an ad that tells me something I really wanted to know. Leaflets dropped through my door are never to sell something I actually want. I don't want a new patio, factory price clothing, etc. I do want to know where locally I can buy a universal 6V power supply with built in NiMH battery charger (for example).

      I know advertising isn't the only issue. But my point is that I am not really bothered about what information is stored about me - only about how it is used. If it is used well, it could be to my benefit.
      • Re:kick ass (Score:3, Insightful)

        by quantaman ( 517394 )
        Let's face it - most advertising these days is rubbish. I almost never see an ad that tells me something I really wanted to know. Leaflets dropped through my door are never to sell something I actually want. I don't want a new patio, factory price clothing, etc. I do want to know where locally I can buy a universal 6V power supply with built in NiMH battery charger (for example).

        The reason why advertising is rubbish is because it's so cheap to do so. Sooner of later they'll find someone who WANTS that new patio or factory price clothing and sooner or later someone will send you a piece of spam telling you where to get that power supply. The industry of junk mail/spam works on fringe markets that arn't covered by mainstream advertising because the impact on the person is so much lesser. It's not quite nobody who wants these things but just a very few people(which add up). Rather than the sledgehammer approach of mainstream advertising which is intended to sway a large and attentive target audience, junk mail is like throwing a bunch of darts at a few selected consumers.

      • I'm glad you don't mind if they track EVERY move you make, just for the purpose of getting targetted spam. Hope ya don't mind when Ashcroft comes in with the National Guard behind him, to take all that information back to his office so it can be scrutinized over in his efforts to rid the world of the unpure. He may see that you went to one night and have you burned at the stake the next day.

        So you can't just think about what Comcast will do with the information, it's what ANYBODY could do with the information.
        • Re:kick ass (Score:1, Funny)

          by Anonymous Coward
          He may see that you went to one night and have you burned at the stake the next day.

          Why would the US Attorney General care if you went to Porn isn't illegal. Now, if you went to some Iraqi site you may be in big trouble.. but then, you're a terrorist if you're looking for information about Iraq!
      • Re:kick ass (Score:2, Insightful)

        If it is used well, it could be to my benefit.

        But it won't be. And that's the problem.

        Marketing, or so it's said, is the science of convincing someone to give you more money than you would otherwise be inclined to give in exchange for a given product or service.

        No business in it's right mind would sell you a whatever (be it a universal power supply or a new patio) at the lowest possible price when they could sell you the same thing at that price plus a markup.

        Marketing isn't about low prices; perhaps you were thinking of competition?

        Marketing is about convincing you that you don't even need to consider the competition, because their prices must be higher, or because they must be less convenient, or because...well...because our product is for those who think young(tm).

        There's a lot of meat here, and relates to the whole reason why Microsoft felt it had to control the browser back when it looked like the majority of marketing would be done on-line through the browser on the Internet, and why AOL felt obligated to buy Time Warner with the Internet looming as the next generation of TV...

    • Quit surfing for naked celebs on your roommates computer and get your own.

      Well, so much for that karma.
  • link to article (Score:2, Informative)

    by dubiousmike ( 558126 )
    You can find the article here: ast.html As if AT&T isn't tracking users too?
  • by Halloween Jack ( 182035 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @04:22PM (#3002418) Homepage
    The 1984 law does allow cable operators to collect private information if it can show it needs the information to operate its service.

    Comcast Executive Vice President Dave Watson said Tuesday that the company was recording no more information about its customers than is common in the industry and no more than needed to optimize its network.

    "How else are we going to keep our customers if we don't have blackmail material?"

    • "common in the industry"

      This defence is what sets me off. To hell with Comcast. "Every body else is doing it" is a crappy defence. And if every body else is doing it, that makes me even madder. He should be forced to testify against "everybody else" or face criminal charges on privacy violation and stalking!
  • by Mr.Intel ( 165870 ) <> on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @04:23PM (#3002426) Homepage Journal
    From the article:

    In response to the AP's coverage, Rep. Ed Markey, an aggressive privacy advocate in Congress, pressed Comcast President Brian Roberts in a letter Wednesday about the recording. Markey said the company's action could be in violation of federal law.

    Sounds like they are just pre-empting a move by the FCC instead of acting benevolent.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Well duh! A public company's only mandate is to generate as much profit as possible within the operating environment that they exist in. Do not make the mistake of giving any for-profit corporation the "benefit of the doubt" as you might a person. There is no doubt. The only thing that stops companies from stomping all over customer's privacy, health, and liberty are negative PR, and government regulation.
    • The founding fathers new a thing or two about tyranny. The constution is a beautiful, though imperfect, thing. If there was no public outcry, we would still suffer from their abuse, and you know they would "push the envelope."
  • by iiii ( 541004 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @04:23PM (#3002427) Homepage
    This might have something to do with it.

    The Washington Post [] has this article [] about how Rep. Ed Markey [] is looking into Comcast []'s collection of personal internet usage info. Hey, this guy must read SlashDot!!

    Markey, D-Mass., in a letter to Comcast President Brian Roberts, wrote that he was concerned about "the nature and extent of any transgressions of the law that may have resulted in consumer privacy being compromised."

    Also, Comcast has a new press release [] in response to the fracas.

    • > [Rep. Ed] Markey, D-Mass., in a letter to Comcast President Brian Roberts, wrote that he was concerned about "the nature and extent of any transgressions of the law that may have resulted in consumer privacy being compromised."

      What are you hiding, Rep. Markey? ;-)

      (Seriously - give 'em hell, Rep. Well done.)

  • by ajuda ( 124386 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @04:24PM (#3002439)
    What the story said:
    Comcast said in a statement that it will stop storing the information "in order to completely reassure our customers that the privacy of their information is secure."

    After using the MBA -> English translator on Babelfish, we get:
    Oh shoot, you cought us, so we will pretend we care about you. HAHA, we will just find another way to treat y'all like cattle. BTW: Please don't sue me.

  • Hmm... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by headchimp ( 524692 )
    Wonder if (still?) they track people's usage of Newsgroups. Because let's face it, alot of warez and pr0n are exchanged that way.
    • Re:Hmm... (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      They don't HAVE news servers anymore. Some people can still log onto the old @Home news servers, but that will end Feb 28th. They said it was due to warez, piracy, etc. I think it was not wanting to maintain the servers and have the use load on their cheesy new network. So, Comcast means no newsgroups. Glad I switched to a pay news server a LONG time ago.
    • I'm not certain what exactly they planned to do with the information that they were collecting but, you appear to be concerned that they were planning to block or restrict your access to porn.

      But, take heart because here is a very interesting bit of trivia. AT&T Broadband, the new operators/owners of Comcast, is the single largest distributor of porn. Here's a Fronline [] episode on PBS that recently discussed this. They (AT&T) do not advertise this fact in any way but, distributing porn generates millions and possibly billions for AT&T Broadband. For this reason, AT&T Broadband is actually very cozy with the porn industry and is not eager to damage that relationship.

      In short, regardless of Comcast's actions, your porn would have been safe.
  • by GSloop ( 165220 ) <networkguru.sloop@net> on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @04:26PM (#3002458) Homepage
    This is like riding down the road with Guido (sorry all italians) who says..."Ya know punk, I'm going to kill you." He pulls out his gun and gets ready to pull the trigger, when Guido sees a cop car pull along side. Guido promptly puts away his gun.

    Do you:

    A) Say, "Hey Guido is a great guy...see he didn't kill me. He must not be so bad after all.

    B) Think Guido is a scumbag. He would have killed me if not for the threat of the cop. I don't think I'll continue to associate with Guido. In fact I think I'll just out of the truck right now...

    If you picked A, please drink the Koolaid now.

    Comcast and a whole host of other unethical companies don't give a hoot about you. Sure they might not rape you this week, but as soon as they can get away with it, they will.

    With our Gvmt from, by and for Big business, these occurances are going to happen more often. And don't expect to see the cop that saved Guido. Gvmt doesn't have the funds to protect the little guy anymore.

  • This will also save them a lot of time and hassle should subpoenas ever come around asking for specific users' habits. Plus, less overhead and cost in terms of keeping track of this stuff. Not the world's worst decision by any means.
  • Comcast is just an ISP, and I don't understand why ISPs want to record that kind of information. For god sake, if you are an ISP, concentrate on providing good bandwidth and good customer services. Why stretching thin (like collecting user's surfing behavior) and pissing off your customers on all fronts? ISP can be a profitable business if you do it right, just like any other businesses anyways.

    • It's very simple answer. If they can get away with providing your ISP services AND sell your usage statistics to companies who want to spam.. I mean sell you something, they end up with two lucrative revenue streams.

      Only if they can get away with it without someone squealing, of course.
    • I don't understand why ISPs want to record that kind of information

      I know the answer to that one. It's because this data can be sold for cold, hard cash.

      If they were (as they said) really aggragating the data before using it, I wouldn't care - as long as they provided an opt-out option. TiVo openly does this and it's an important part of their business model.
    • "For god sake, if you are an ISP, concentrate on providing good bandwidth and good customer services."

      Did you bother reading the article? Comcast's position was that they were using the data to help them make performance related improvements. You're more than welcome to attack the validity of Comcast's statement, but you aren't doing that.

      Instead, all you're saying, "Comcast should be doing X." after Comcast has already said, "We were doing Y as a means of doing X." That doesn't really further the discussion at all. A more valuable post might cover, "Here's why it's better to do X via a means other than Y." or "Here's why Y isn't necessary for doing X at all." or even "Here's why I think they're lying when they say their only motive is X."

      • Except that it's obvious to anyone with a brain that Y (collecting should-be-private user information) doesn't contribute in any way to X (providing faster, more reliable service.) If you're collecting my private information, the burden of proof is on you to show me why such collection is beneficial, not on me to show why it isn't.
        • Hypothetically: We see that customers A, B, C, G, H-Z get home around 7PM and surf to Hotmail, CNN, and Ebay. We also see that customers E and F are vising WarezSite and MegaSexVideos. According to our data, users E and F are using 75% of the bandwidth from 7PM until 10PM, then 105% of the bandwidth from 10PM until 7PM. Blocking those two sites might free up some bandwidth. Kicking E and F would also free up some bandwidth. Either option would provide faster, more reliable service to THE REST of our customers.

        • If you're collecting my private information, the burden of proof is on you to show me why such collection is beneficial, not on me to show why it isn't.
          Ah yes, the old 'guilty until proven innocent' methodology.

          can you prove you didn't steal my wallet on August 23rd, 1996?

        • "Except that it's obvious to anyone with a brain that Y (collecting should-be-private user information) doesn't contribute in any way to X (providing faster, more reliable service.)"

          According to Comcast's statement, the information they were collecting (Y) wasn't connected to individual subscribers. One very obvious possibility that fits the criteria for Y and applies to X would be a list of the most popular sites that users visit, so that they may prioritize improvements in their networking infrastructure. For example, if they discover 40% of user web-traffic is going to only 10 different sites, it might even be worthwhile to look into dedicated connections to those sites. Another possibility is that they were considering implementing a web-caching scheme and wanted to gather statistics necessary to figure out the ideal cache size.

          There's certainly a very real possibility that Comcast could've been collecting data in excess of what they claim or that they were commercially exploiting the data, but you've got to be particularly close-minded to be able to rule out any possibility of legitimate use.

  • Whats the benifit? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by pagercam2 ( 533686 )
    What do these companies hope to gain? All this market research stuff seems pretty worthless to me. These firms may watch where I surf, but the only real thing they want/need to know is where I'll spend my next purchase. I may surf porn all day and then buy music, I don't generally surf/purchase in any sort of direct proportion, and I suspect most people don't. I may do some research before buying a DVD player, but what I may look at and what I buy may or may not come from watching my surfing habits. So they get lots of information but does it really have any worth to a retailer???? Noticing that I frequent /. probably doesn't help sell anything. I am constantly amazed that people expect to make money off the internet, the internet has grown only becasue things are free or maybe cheaper than in the real world, people don't expect to have to pay for info on the web, and many only use the web to get info on store purchases, the prices may not be as good but having the item in my hand rather than waiting for Mr UPS is what matters!
    • by immanis ( 557955 )

      Hey, noticing that you surf porn and /. all day does give them something to work with.

      Now they can target-market you for sex toys and geek stuff instead of sports equipment. That must be why we get all those email messages about enlarging your johnson 4-6 inches.

      Trend analysis is an old field. And like it or not, generalizations can be made about a person's web surfing habits. They won't always be right, but they frequently will be close. And they may only get you to make one purchase more a year than you would have otherwise. But that is more than nothing.

      Worth the expense? Now that is the bigger question. For users like you or I? Prolly not. For average users?

      Of course. How do you think these people keep jobs?

    • > These firms may watch where I surf, but the only real thing they want/need to know is where I'll spend my next purchase. I may surf porn all day and then buy music, I don't generally surf/purchase in any sort of direct proportion, and I suspect most people don't.

      Someone oughta do some cross-correlation of Subject: lines of USENET headers and keyword searches on music databases.

      I know I've often typed in things like "$BAND_NAME discography" within a day or so of downloading MP3s of a band I've previously never heard of.

      I don't know how useful it would be useful for marketing purposes, as I've already got everything I need to know to make up my mind whether I wanna buy the album or not.

      But if I owned an online music store, I'd think I'd like to have a google-zeitgeist kind of "most popular searches over time" and watch for spikes in rarely-searched terms, and match those spikes with postings of MP3s in the MP3 hierarchies.

  • Wow... A new definition of the Slashdot Effect. Post an article, alot of people bitch, and they stop doing it... Hmm.. Kinda fishy.
  • The article mentions that all users are forced to go through proxies. That kind of sucks; just more of these high speed ISPs trying to limit what you do with the Internet. Next thing they'll be charging premiums to play EverQuest or Quake or whatever.
  • Proxies? Why? (Score:1, Insightful)

    To speed performance, these proxy computers retain copies of the most-popular Web sites that customers visit.

    We don't need that. Web surfers already have something like that on a personal, local level. It's called web cache.

    This was an largely unnecessary step to "improve performance", and a lousy excuse to collect the data in the first place.
    • Well, in all fairness, think of something like September 11th.... Everyone and their grandmother wants to go to and see what's going on - Comcast is just trying to optimize the bandwidth they use going upstream, and in the process it also ensures that everyone can see the webpage (instead of having the lovely Slashdot effect..)

      Still, Comcast's actions are inexcusable, and not really for technical reasons (@Home had caching transparent proxies for years..)
    • Re:Proxies? Why? (Score:3, Informative)

      by B1 ( 86803 )

      We don't need that. Web surfers already have something like that on a personal, local level. It's called web cache.

      One of the benefits of going through a caching proxy is that the cache is centralized, and available to everybody. This can amount to a huge upstream bandwidth savings for an ISP.

      If ten customers go directly to, the ISP will download from its upstream provider ten times--the fact that customer A visits the site doesn't help customer B, since their browser caches are private. For that matter, if customer A switches between Netscape and IE, he will have to download the page again, since each browser maintains its own independent cache.

      With ten customers going through a transparent caching proxy, the ISP caches the page once, and serves it from the cache ten times. This is a huge savings on upstream bandwidth, and improves performance for everybody. sees less load on their server, visitors load the CNN website faster, and customers visiting have more upstream bandwidth available.
      • Re:Proxies? Why? (Score:2, Informative)

        by TeddyR ( 4176 )
        Personally I am ALL FOR caches... Just make them optional so that I can turn it off in the very rare situations that it breaks someting.

        There are several protocols that allow the end user to automatically detect the cache servers that they need to use.

        I have used and deployed several squid proxy-caches that I was able to prove reduced the required border bandwidth utilization in organizations by around 20%. Of course this means that the caches and the hiarchy needs to be thought out in advance. Network planning 101... for an existing cache hiarchy that you can freely connect with.

  • Corporate sutpidity amazes me.

    In a company that big, certainly someone should have been capable of raising a red flag on this.

    And whoever it was that ignored the red flag had to know that people find these things out.

    Odds are if ComCast had said, before they did anything, "the information will be stored only temporarily, will be purged automatically every few days and will never be connected to individual subscribers," and had the followed through on that promise, they could have avoided a huge PR hit.

    Instead, they went beyond simple caching, and now everyone is asking the same question:

    "If you weren't going to tie it back to the users, why were you recording user information in the first place?"

  • More Info (Score:3, Informative)

    by BrianGa ( 536442 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @04:32PM (#3002512)
    In response to previous claims [] of Comcast [] intercepting packets, the company pledged today [] "to immediately stop recording the Web browsing activities of each of its 1 million high-speed Internet subscribers." This after the Associated Press [] announced on Tuesday [] that the company "has started recording the Web browsing activities of each of its 1 million high-speed Internet subscribers without notifying them of the change."
  • This adds new meaning. There couldn't possibly be ANYONE else who doesn't want their private information shared with everyone.
  • Thanks slashdot (Score:5, Informative)

    by $carab ( 464226 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @04:36PM (#3002549) Journal
    Big Kudos to the moderator (timothy) who was willing to take a chance on an anonymous bugtraq tip. I just got off the phone with Comcast tech support, and they said, essentially, that if this information had never leaked out, they would still be monitoring my internet usage.

    Just looking at the original article right here [], I was very suprised by all the "This is not news posts" that got modded +5.

    Quite simply, this is news, and this is not a simple proxy server either, according to Comcast tech support. Slashdot took a big risk in posting this story, and I think everyone that hollered about the original story being a bust owes a big apology to timothy.

    It's good Comcast has finally seen the light (or have had it thrust in their faces), but I am still looking for a new ISP. I think this image [] really explains why:
    Curious jumps everywhere
    High ping times

    I'm afraid Comcast just isn't cutting it any more. Since my area is a Comcast monopoly, I tihnk its time that we pressured our public officials to break up this monopoly.

    As I told the rep: "I hope you realize that if a competitor, ANY competitor, breaks up your cable monopoly here, you will lose all your market share."
    And he said:
    "Yeah, I know"
    • This isn't a "Thanks Slashdot" thing; You make it sound like without slashdot this would never have seen the light of day. The thread had been going since last Thursday on vuln-dev. AP had already sniffed the story as of Friday. I know this because I was involved in the email thread, and because I was contacted by an AP reporter friday PM. The story was coming out; just because slashdot linked to a copy of a vuln-dev post (and not the actual archive with the thread intact []) doesn't mean slashdot broke the story.

    • Is 65ms a bad a ping time? Are those jumps expected? To talk from baton rouge to new orleans, my packets made 17 hops through a great circle from baton rouge to houston to washington to atlanta to new orleans. The ping time was 53ms average. Sure you might expect things to be a little nicer than that for a 100 mile trip. Is there a better way to build these networks? Are there other backbones that they could route through that they are not, simply to collect information about their user's habits?

      By the way, that shell sure could use some help. The authors should consult the source code for Eterm, gnome-terminal and rxvt.

      • This is what it should look like:


        Tracing route to []
        over a maximum of 30 hops:

        1 10 ms 10 ms 10 msDELETED TO PROTECT IDENTITY
        2 10 ms 10 ms 10 msDELETED TO PROTECT IDENTITY
        3 10 ms 10 ms 10 msDELETED TO PROTECT IDENTITY
        4 10 ms 10 ms 10 msPOS4-3.XR2.TOR2.ALTER.NET []
        5 10 ms 10 ms 10 []
        6 10 ms 20 ms 20 []
        7 10 ms 20 ms 20 []
        8 10 ms 20 ms 20 msPOS7-0.GW7.CHI2.ALTER.NET []
        9 10 ms 20 ms 20 []
        10 10 ms 20 ms 20 []
        11 30 ms 40 ms 40 []
        12 30 ms 40 ms 40 ms216.74.171.2
        13 60 ms 40 ms 40 []
        14 30 ms 41 ms 40 []
        15 30 ms 40 ms 40 []
        16 30 ms 40 ms 40 ms216.109.88.218
        17 40 ms 40 ms 40 []
        18 30 ms 41 ms 40 []

        Trace complete.

    • Heh, yeah, when I saw this story pop up, I was thinking very smugly to myself, "Haha, I knew it wasn't just a cache. Take that, slashbots."
    • I just tried pinging and tracerting Google, and I'm baffled...

      My average tracert time is 21ms, but my average ping time is 88?? Yes I tested this a few times. Does this make sense to anybody?

  • that's not saying they won't participate in this. []
  • So why were they recording it in the first place if they weren't using it?
  • that they don't want to compete with the vast resources of the gummint. []
  • This just In...Enron exec says future looks bright...RayBan stock rises...

    Jeez you guys will believe anything...I bet they are still tracking, just saying they arent...unless, they just ran out of tapes to spool the logs off to...
  • This article comes as good news, but there's something really odd I noticed at a friends house... they use Comcast's cable service, and can not access -any- websites with .pl domains. Anyone know what's up with that?
  • The real reason is that it takes alot of money in both storage and DBA costs to collect this data. It used to be worth it but with the current state of the economy, this kind of clickstream data is less sought after by advertisers and has pretty much become worthless information.

    Sure they want you to think they are just being nice guys, but it is purely an economic decision I assure you.

  • As someone who stupidly gave out his cell phone as his main contact number with the cable company when I had no other phone I have been unerringly called on it to inform me that:
    1)my @home e-mail is going to die (who needs me@home when you got
    2)that they were upgrading their network and needed to make sure that DHCP was on
    3)and wonder of all wonders that they are better than the Dish Networks (Direct TV) even though they have worse service and cost more.

    These calls continue despite all my 8 seperate efforts to change this number to my new house number. I think that Comcast owes me at least a little privacy.

  • what companies will do in the name of the almighty dollar. What goes through people's heads in these companies when they decide to do things like spy on their users? And how do they think it's going to benefit them?

    For the sake of argument, imagine that a company like Comcast decided to start monitoring everything their users did without telling anyone - and that nobody ever discovered what they were doing. They monitored and monitored for years, tracking every move every customer made on the Internet, and nobody ever caught on. Then what? Do they sell this information to market research firms? Do they use it for their own in-house market research? In the end, under the most favorable circumstances, just how much money do they think they could make off a scam like this?

    And in the end they have so much more to lose than to gain. Even though they say they are no longer going to monitor their users, I will never become a Comcast customer because of this. They can't be trusted (of course, not many companies can, if any), but even moreso, they were too stupid to realize what the repercussions of monitoring their users might be. This is what utterly amazes me. How many times have companies gotten nailed for spying or other underhanded tactics like selling user information? We hear about new cases all the time. Companies such as MS, Real Networks, etc. (and now even KaZaA) have shipped spyware (and sometimes been sued for massive amounts of money) and gotten nailed. Yet idiot companies like Comcast continue to pull this crap.

    I wish I was a better student of human nature. I'm afraid I'll never understand what drives people to such stupidity.
  • Comcast says they're going to stop yadda yadda.

    Is there any way a customer could actually find out if they really did?

  • by gpinzone ( 531794 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @04:45PM (#3002630) Homepage Journal
    Let's see how many companies want to gather your personal information:

    Real Networks

    Hmmm. Seems to me that the market is flooded with companies trying to sell consumer statistics. With all that competition, how do any of them expect to make any money?

    Reminds me when banner ads were all the rage. Everyone assumed they would get a good return for their advertising dollar.
    • Seems to me that the market is flooded with companies trying to sell consumer statistics. With all that competition, how do any of them expect to make any money?

      Easy. Someone comes along and offers to perform a matchback on the data, buying data from each of the companies mentioned. The more 'competitors' chasing after information, the more robust the matchback.

      • If you want that kind of information that badly, you're not going to pay 20 different firms for similar information and then datamine the whole mess so you can fill in the gaps. The companies that have the beter consumer data (e.g., Amazon) will win out and/or companies will pool their data together and provide a single database to sell. Either way, the market becomes saturated to the point where only a few entities will have data worth buying. Everyone else will get undercut by the "big guys" and get weeded out just like the majority of the dot coms did in 2000-present.
    • Good point.

      If everybody has my personal information, it isn't very private anymore.

      If everybody has my personal information its public information.

      Information that is known by everyone isn't worth anything.
  • Well, this is just great. I have had such horrible customer service issues with Comcast, topped off by their disrespect for my browsing privacy, that I switched my Internet service to the phone company's DSL. Now that they've changed the policy, I am stuck with slower service. Bah.

    Although, now that I think about it, they probably would have invaded my privacy some other way. Once a crook, always a crook.

  • I'd like to know what that means. Storing in this case may just mean archiving, or at least long-term storage of the data. The story doesn't say they'll stop tracking the usage, only that they won't store it. Not being overly suspicious, it was just the verbage used seemed kind of broad to me.
  • by lostboy2 ( 194153 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @04:48PM (#3002649)
    Hmmm... this may be off-topic, but...

    At my first .com job, we were developing software that would, among other things, collect and store demographic info from its users (whatever the users entered in certain demographic fields in the software options/properties, IIRC).

    However, our assertion was that the data we collected could not be used to trace use of the software back to an individual. That is, we were collecting data anonymously for its aggregate value, only.

    In order to make this claim, we planned to subject ourselves to an audit of our security by some third-party company who, supposedly, was good and well-known for this kind of audit.

    The audit was supposed to verify that the data was stored in such a way as to make it impossible to trace back to the end user, that the security of our data from external attack and also to ensure that our internal policies were adequate (e.g., that only appropriate employees had access to the data and/or the systems that stored that data, that only certain employees had the ability to grant other employees access, that strict policies were in place regarding the change of such priviledges, etc.).

    In light of this, I often wonder when companies claim "we're only using personal information for $X" or "we're doing this to ensure the privacy of our customers"
    *) do they really need to collect the personal info to do $X?
    *) have they gone through an audit to verify that this private info is secure?
    *) if not, why not?

    Actually, because Me.jaded = True, I think I know the answers to these questions, but it still doesn't stop me from wondering.

    Anyway, I'm glad Comcast will stop collecting this info, but it sounds like someone saying "I'm going to stop hitting you now. Aren't I wonderful?"

    -- D.
  • Comcast reassured customers Wednesday that the information had been stored only temporarily, was purged automatically every few days and "has never been connected to individual subscribers." But it said it will stop recording the information, anyway.

    Funny how it doesn't say anything about not being transferred or duplicated. Of course, "individual subscribers" is not the same thing as "subscriber clusters" or "market groups"... what's the granularity they did use?

    He said that while the company was recording details about customer Web browsing, it did not use the information to build profiles of online consumer behavior.

    Of course not, there are other companys who do that for you!

    "Comcast absolutely does not share personal information about our customers, and we have the utmost respect for our customers' privacy," Watson said.

    He doesn't say that they don't sell it, or for that matter, what they do use it for.

    Either way, the info they collected before they stopped was very likely sold, and it was worth a lot of money. This would be a handy trick to swap some PR for some quick cash if the need arose.

  • by PoiBoy ( 525770 ) <> on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @04:58PM (#3002727) Homepage
    I use Comcast for my internet access; and I live near Detroit, one of the cities mentioned where Comcast admitted to using their sniffing programs.

    For the last several weeks I have been using the speed test on to monitor my cable modem because it had seemed very sluggish. My download speed was not over 400Kbps in the past two weeks.

    I just checked my speed, and at 4:00 in the afternoon, I recorded a speed of 963Kbps, which I deem acceptable for this time of day based on past experience.

    A sudden 140% increase in speed for no reason at all? I think not!

  • While I'm grateful to the Associated Press for picking up this story and running with it, I find nothing in any of their coverage that credits "J. Edgar Hoover," Bugtraq, or Slashdot. Just "The Associated Press reported Tuesday ..." or "In response to the AP's coverage ..."

    As a former journalist, this bothers me. There's nothing wrong with scanning message boards, listservs, etc. for tips, but credit should go where credit is due.

  • First, we have no idea whether or not Comcast is technically doing bad things(tm) with our data or not. I'm glad they're not collecting it any more, but i never really cared in the first place. "You have no privacy... get over it."

    Second, couldn't AOL technically be considered to do the exact same thing? Every web page you access on AOL is not direct but through AOL's proxies. That proxy is a store for pages and, though it's not necessarily tied to individual users, it certainly could be if they so desire. Is this what Comcast was doing? Or something similar?

    I mean look at what AOL's proxies do. They:
    a) Take a request from a user
    b) Go out and gets that information
    c) Hold a store of that information (so other users can access it in the future)

    all you need is:
    d) Store a record of who requested it

    And you've got the exact same thing. And Comcast (claimed) that they never tied individual records to a single account... without the technical details on what each of them is doing, that's the same thing to me.

  • Y'all are all paranoid. Geez, I think ComCast is giving an absolutely legitimate reason for their efforts. First of all, why trace it back to the source? Because you want to know what to cache in what areas. Personally, if that's what they're really doing it for, then good for them. I respect the idea that my ISP is trying to provide the best possible service by reducing bandwidth.

    Personally, I think everyone is way too paranoid about this invasion of privacy stuff. I could care less if they know I'm going to whatever sites I go to. If it's going to get them to me faster, cool!

    Hell, that's part of the reason I run Squid on my Linux router at home anyway.
  • maybe they couldn't find a buyer for the data, so they just gave up storing it.
  • NPR Connection? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by handorf ( 29768 ) on Wednesday February 13, 2002 @05:19PM (#3002865)
    You know... I heard Bob Edwards mention this as one of the 30 second news bits on Morning Edition this morning.

    Coincidince? Somehow I think not. It's outlets like that that bring news to the many users of Comcast who DON'T read slashdot and aren't geeks, but occasionally enjoy a little evil goat pr0n on the side. And they vote.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    It is quite possible for a transparent proxy to log the plaintext of a SSL transmission through an active man-in-the-middle attack. Check out http:// . According to the site, it works by exploiting weak bindings in ad-hoc PKI. I have no idea if this still works on modern browsers, but if it does, then even using SSL will not stop comcast from collecting data.
  • Once again, the message from the corporation seems to be,

    "It's only a bad idea if the customer find out we're doing it."

    How many other companies are screwing the pooch, and are hoping we don't find out so that they'll have to make a big to-do about listening to their customers and ending the suspect business practices?

  • Comcast ISP Users Everywhere:

    You may now resume your daily pr0n broadcast.

    Thank you
  • for getting smart about this.

    I guess they can claim convicted felon who's served his time status, which puts them above unrepentant felon status, but no where near smart enough to have never done the crime in the first place status. Way to go, Comcast! In all seriousness!

  • snip

    The 1984 law does allow cable operators to collect private information if it can show it needs the information to operate its service.


    1984, need we say more?
  • Can this be considered a victory for private citizen using the Comcast network?
  • Instead of digging in the dirt themselves they sell the connection logs to someone else. Carnivore. FBI. CIA. Al Kaida. Echelon. IRS. Who cares, the company is 'clean'...
  • Apparently, comcast is currently blacklisted with spamcop.

    details here. []

    On second glance, it seems they've had a long history of being blacklisted.
  • If monitoring was occurring, they would only need 7 days worth of data to have an information goldmine that is incredibly valuable today, and good for judging user behavior at least for the next year.
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer [] has recently run a couple of stories on this. You can see the first story [] in which they reported the tracking and the follow-up story [] which says they will stop (and in which they admitted they were doing tracking).

egrep -n '^[a-z].*\(' $ | sort -t':' +2.0