ISPs using deep packet inspection to spy on you

April 8, 2008

ISPs using deep packet inspection to spy on youIt seems certain ISPs are using a technique called deep packet inspection to spy on hundreds of thousands of internet service customers in the United States. That is a major invasion of privacy! Deep packet inspection is way to monitor your online activity keystroke by keystroke.

This type of detailed, keystroke by keystroke monitoring means that these ISPs know not only who you’re emailing, what you are searching for online and what web sites you visit, they also know the contents of your emails, text messages and tweets, plus much more. This is an incredibly invasive and highly questionable practice.

What are the ISPs doing with these invasive, privacy violating tactics? Many are gathering information about your habits, likes and dislikes to sell to advertisers. These ISPs say that “no personal information is released”, an assertion that is patently untrue in light of email communications being included in the deep packet foraging. Deep packet inspection is also included as part of the highly publicized scandal involving AT&T spying on users for the government, which as a whole was condemned by the nations highest courts as infringing on customer rights.

In a world where users are already wary of cookies, anonymous trackers that have existed online for ages, deep packet inspection techniques are a major concern for privacy. It has been likened to someone tapping your phone and hearing every conversation, from the most mundane to the most intimate detail. Not only is your data being tapped, so to speak, it is being recorded and sold to the highest bidder.

As a computer user and blogger, I don’t necessarily expect complete privacy online. I am very aware that once written down, words have a way of coming back to you in unexpected ways. That said, I’m less uncomfortable with companies tracking what web sites I visit than I am with them tracking my emails. Though email encryption is available for little to no money for everyone, not many people currently utilize this protection. That limits how often I can use it in turn, making it harder to protect myself if I want to continue to communicate with less tech savvy contacts, friends and family.

Sources breaking the news did detail the names of the companies who mule the data, like NeBuAd and Front Porch (handle the housekeeping of data mining and deliver it to the requesting ISP); however, they did not reveal the names of the ISPs currently using their services. Currently 10 percent of American internet users are being monitored by deep packet inspection without their knowledge. At this time, I have been unable to find a tool for users to use to find out if they are being monitored. If you produce such a tool, or know of one, please share in the comments!

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