Cost of TV-Phone-Net Deals: No Privacy

Big Brother may not be watching you. But, chances are, Corporate America is—especially if you have a package cable television or telephone deal.

If you read the fine print on your contract for phone, cable television and Internet service with certain providers, it’s clear that “not only does the company have the ability to know what you watch on TV and whom you call, but also that it can track your online activities, including sites you visit and stuff you buy,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Although representatives of companies that provide these bundled services insist they don’t invade customers’ privacy, the sweeping “privacy” policies contained in many contracts say providers have the right to do so—and provide this information to others, potentially even the government, writes David Lazarus in a Times consumer column. At least one contract expressly says the company can review “information” that customers “publish”—i.e., their e-mail, he says.

“We’re a bit closer to the Orwellian 1984. But that was a government eye, and this is a corporate eye,” Beth Givens, director of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse in San Diego, tells the newspaper. She is, of course, referring to the classic 1949 novel by George Orwell that introduced readers to the concept that Big Brother was watching them, all the time, with the help of television monitors set up in private homes.

Ironically, Orwell himself was closely watched by the British government because of concerns about his communist sympathies, Bloomberg reported earlier this month. Among the information detailed in surveillance files: “He spends his time reading various French newspapers, among which is L’Humanite, but he has not so far been seen to mix with communists in Paris and until he does considers that the French will not interfere with him.”

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