BendBroadband “doesn’t sell customer data”

Privacy inquiries increase as Trump blocks FCC rules

By Kathleen McLaughlin, The Bulletin

Since the Republican-controlled Congress and President Donald Trump blocked Obama-era internet privacy rules, some internet users are asking their service providers whether information — such as browsing history — is for sale.

“We do not sell any customer data,” said DeAnne Boegli, public relations manager for Madison, Wisconsin-based TDS Telecom, the parent company of BendBroadband. “If we were to violate that trust with the customer, obviously they wouldn’t want to use us as their (internet service provider) anymore.”

CenturyLink spokesman Mark Molzen said, “We do not sell individual browsing history or app usage.”

The Federal Communications Commission adopted rules last year that would have forced broadband providers to get customers’ permission before offering marketers a wealth of information about individuals, including their health and finances, geographic location, list of websites visited and apps they’ve used, according to an analysis by Associated Press technology writer Tali Arbel. Major telecommunications companies opposed those rules.

For now, phone and cable companies remain subject to federal law that imposes on broadband providers a “duty to protect the confidentiality” of customer information and restricts them from using some customer data without “approval” according to the AP analysis. But the law doesn’t spell out how companies must get permission, how they must protect customer data or whether and how they have to disclose hacking, the AP said.

The fact that internet service providers have access to users’ browsing history and even the potential to sell it is “very disquieting,” said Lewis Howell, the founder of a Bend-based software company, Hueya, which monitors users’ privacy on social media sites.

“They know everything about you,” he said. “This data is gold.”

Broadband industry representatives complained that the FCC’s restrictions on browsing and app history would have been unfair, since the same restrictions don’t apply to companies like Google and Facebook, according to the AP.

Google and Facebook are free, but subscribers pay internet service providers monthly fees, and that comes with an expectation of privacy and security, Howell said.

TDS, which doesn’t disclose its local market share but says it’s a “dominant” provider in Bend, has fielded a few questions from Bend customers about its privacy policy since Congress passed a resolution last week that Trump signed Monday to block the FCC rules from taking effect, Boegli said.

“We do not sell, trade or rent your personally identifiable information to unaffiliated third parties for their direct marketing purposes unless you have affirmatively agreed to such disclosure,” BendBroadband’s 10-page policy states. “We may disclose your personally identifiable information to our affiliates for marketing purposes.”

CenturyLink is also replying to inquiries about privacy by pointing to its policy.

“Our customers are well-protected under existing privacy protections,” said Molzen in Phoenix. “Our customers have choices relating to how we use their information for marketing and advertising purposes through an opt-out process.”

—Reporter: 541-617-7860, kmclaughlin@bendbulletin.com

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