Need to Read the Fine Print

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Whether they realize it or not, Comcast Corp.'s high-speed Internet customers and their peers using other MSOs' systems do agree to some information gathering as part of their service agreements.

Comcast's user agreement contains a lengthy section on collection of user data "as necessary to render the Service, to otherwise undertake legitimate business activities related to the Service and to comply with law." That includes "information about a customer's 'electronic browsing.' "

But the policy states that Comcast will disclose that information to third parties "only when it is necessary to deliver the Service to customers or carry out related business activities, in the ordinary course of business, for ordinary business purposes, and at a frequency dictated by Comcast's particular business need, or pursuant to a court order or order of any regulatory body having jurisdiction over matters which are the subject of this Agreement."

The policy also includes a security caveat: "Comcast may also disclose personal information to prevent criminal activity (including bomb threats), violation of the @Home Network Acceptable Use Policy, or in the event of fraud."

Comcast is not alone in collecting user data. AT&T Broadband's policy allows for the collection of data that may include a record of Web pages visited by a user. But the policy also states the company "will not use information about your activities on the Internet together with any information that identifies you without your consent."

Similar to Comcast, AT&T Broadband's policy states it will not "sell, trade, or disclose to third parties any customer identifiable information derived from the registration for or use of an AT&T online service — including customer names and addresses — without the consent of the customer (except as required by subpoena, search warrant, or other legal process or in the case of imminent physical harm to the customer or others)."

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