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Top Story: Is your cable provider spying on you?

Top Story: Is your cable provider spying on you?
Photo courtesy of SHUTTERSTOCK

If you still have that trusty, old cable box you have welcomed to your home unquestioned for years, then it might be spying on you without your knowledge.

Public Knowledge, a non-profit, public interest group that aims to uphold and protect consumer rights, recently filed privacy complaints to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). These complaints detailed how cable and satellite TV providers may be using and sharing cable box subscriber data illegally.

Their FCC and FTC filings were similar in nature. They accused the major cable operators - namely AT&T, Cablevision and Comcast - of continued use of customers' data without obtaining consent or informing subscribers how they were using this information.

They also outline how cable operators share this data pulled from set-top boxes to third parties for targeted advertising purposes. Again, without the customer's permission.

In these complaints, Public Knowledge argued that based on "privacy rules" of federal law, cable operators are required to obtain "written or electronic consent" from the subscriber prior to the collection of that data for sharing with third-party advertisers.

These same rules, they asserted, would also require the cable operators to provide a written statement to customers that clearly states how this personal information is used.

Public Knowledge also claimed that cable operators set the defaults to automatically opt-in consumers without obtaining their written consent. However, consumers did have the option to turn the feature off if they requested in. Unfortunately, though, the vast majority of consumers don't realize they are being tracked to begin with.

By issuing these these complaints, Public Knowledge hopes that the FTC and FCC will finally enforce these privacy laws and take action against these major cable companies.

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