The Computers, Freedom and Privacy conference wraps up today in Washington, D.C., with conference participants having paid significant attention to the on-going debates concerning ISPs, Deep Packet Inspection and net neutrality. Over the past several days, representatives from the various interested parties have made their cases for and against certain measures pertaining to user privacy. As was expected, demands for the protection of user privacy often came into conflict with ISPs’ advertising strategies and their defense of their overall network quality.
At the center of this debate is the issue of transparency and what ISPs are actually telling customers. In many cases, apparent intrusions into user privacy are qualified by what’s stated in the “fine print” of customer contracts. If these contracts notify customers that their Internet activity and personal information may be used for advertising or other purposes, then it can’t really be said that the customer’s privacy has been invaded. But, the question is, how many users actually read their contracts, and furhtermore, how many people actually understand the fine print? It would be interesting to see what percentage of Internet users could define deep packet inspection. Probably not very many.
This situation is reminiscent of many others involving service contracts, but one particular timely example comes to mind — credit cards. Last month, the Senate passed a credit card “bill of rights,” through which consumers would be both better protected and better informed. Of the latter, President Obama stated, “you should not have to worry that when you sign up for a credit card, you’re signing away all your rights. You shouldn’t need a magnifying glass or a law degree to read the fine print that sometimes doesn’t even appear to be written in English.”
Ultimately, the same should be true for any service contracts, but especially if private information is at stake, as is the case with the Internet privacy debate. Therefore, while it’s a step in the right direction to include potential user privacy issues in service contracts, it should not be done only with the intention of preventing potential legal backlash, but rather with the customer’s true understanding of the agreement in mind.
Editor’s Note: APconnections and NetEqualizer have long been a proponent of both transparency and the protection of user privacy, having devoted several years to developing technology that maintains network quality while respecting the privacy of Internet users.