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Privacy PR—are ISPs monitoring, sharing and selling our personal data?

by | Aug 14, 2018 | Public Relations

It’s no longer a secret that the big web and social platforms are harvesting and selling personal data, but the story doesn’t end there: Most of us access the Internet through large Internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast Xfinity, Charter Communications/Spectrum, AT&T, Verizon and Cox Communications—and as our digital world grows, so does the power of ISPs. In fact, most Americans worry their ISP is sharing their personal information with both advertisers and government agencies.

A new survey of 1,000 Americans from decentralized ISP solution Open Garden sought to better understand consumer perceptions toward Internet service providers and privacy concerns regarding their online activities and personal information.

Assisting Big Brother

A full two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) believe that their ISP sells their behavioral data to advertisers and three quarters believe the government has access to all of the data their ISP collects. There was also a strong demand for an ISP that wouldn’t monitor, sell or share user data, with over 90 percent of respondents saying they would prefer such an ISP.

Thanks to new network protocols, the Internet service provider most Americans are searching for could simply be a neighbor. With the mainstream adoption of Airbnb, Uber and Lyft, it’s no surprise that the sharing economy is expected to grow to $335 billion annually by 2025. The American public is looking for ways to leverage peer-to-peer solutions, and millennials are leading the charge.

Many of those surveyed expressed interest in applying the principles of the sharing economy to Internet service

For instance, 60 percent of millennials expressed interest in purchasing Internet service from a neighbor instead of directly from a traditional ISP if it were less expensive, and 58 percent would be willing to sell Internet connectivity to their neighbors. While the majority of all respondents (53 percent) demonstrated openness to a sharing economy model for Internet connectivity, millennial interest was roughly seven percent higher than all other generations.

Across providers, 63 percent of those surveyed believe home Internet service is too expensive. In today’s digital world, connectivity is no longer seen as a luxury, but rather a necessity. In fact, 81 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the Internet is a public resource.

Across generations, the cost of Internet service for most users remains very high, as there is little competition in the ISP marketplace. On average, consumers are typically paying for more bandwidth than they need because network operators have precisely structured their business models that way. Interest in a sharing economy model for Internet service poses hope for addressing today’s high costs of broadband, a lack of competition and privacy concerns.

“Given the concerns expressed in this survey, it’s clear that people are looking for a more affordable, reliable and private way to access the Internet,” said Paul Hainsworth, CEO at Open Garden, in a news release. “We are delighted to enable anyone to securely share their connectivity with other people; making a more accessible, faster and secure Internet, together.”

Other interesting findings include:

  • 54 percent of users worry their ISP monitors what they do online.
  • More respondents (28 percent) named Comcast Xfinity as their provider than any other and one third of Gen Z respondents stated they were Comcast Xfinity subscribers.
  • 73 percent of Comcast Xfinity subscribers said their home broadband Internet service was too expensive.
  • 68 percent of CenturyLink subscribers would consider purchasing Internet service from their neighbor instead of a large ISP, if it were less expensive.
  • One third of Comcast Xfinity subscribers, CenturyLink subscribers and Time Warner Cable subscribers worry their ISP is selling or sharing their information with advertisers.
  • Android smartphone users are six percent more likely to be interested in sharing their broadband home Internet service with their neighbors, if neighbors could easily and securely pay them for it and five percent more likely to purchase it from their neighbor than a large ISP.

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Richard Carufel
Richard Carufel is editor of Bulldog Reporter and the Daily ’Dog, one of the web’s leading sources of PR and marketing communications news and opinions. He has been reporting on the PR and communications industry for over 12 years, and has interviewed hundreds of journalists and PR industry leaders. Reach him at richardc@bulldogreporter.com; @BulldogReporter

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