Comcast’s damage-control processes continue to get a workout.
Weeks after an infamously exasperating exchange went public between a customer service person and a customer wishing to disconnect their service, the mega ISP spent most of the weekend defending itself from charges it was discouraging customers from using the Tor browser.
Reports surfaced from a website called DeepDotWeb citing anecdotes allegedly from Comcast customers who were being told they must stop using Tor and quoted customer service reps who said Tor was an “illegal service.”
Comcast fired back this morning, refuting the report and reassuring Tor users they would not be disconnected for using the anonymity service.
“Comcast is not asking customers to stop using Tor, or any other browser for that matter. We have no policy against Tor, or any other browser or software,” said Jason Livingood, VP Internet and Communications Engineering in Technology at Comcast. “Customers are free to use their Xfinity Internet service to visit any website, use any app, and so forth.”
Tor promises its users a level of anonymity online by routing traffic through layers of proxies on the network until packets reach their final destination. The network is used by journalists, activists and other privacy-conscious individuals to keep communication secret.
Tor executive director Andrew Lewman told Threatpost that its Open Observatory of Network Interference (OONI) project investigates instances where Internet access might be restricted, and that this may be a good research topic for OONI.
“People with uncensored connections to the Internet can use Tor to share their access with human rights defenders and journalists behind national firewalls,” Lewman said. “We tend to have good relationships with Internet Service Providers in free societies for this reason.”
The DeepDotWeb report is shy on confirmed facts, citing anonymous Comcast reps by their first name, who allegedly accused Tor users of illegalities and added that Comcast could terminate or suspend a Tor user’s account, and fine them. The report also intimates that Comcast monitors its users’ browser choices. In its first Transparency Report, released in March, Comcast said it received fewer than 20,000 subpoenas for customer information, 253 content warrants and even relatively fewer (93) pen register and trap-and-trace orders.
Livingood said Comcast doesn’t monitor its customers’ choice of browser, nor does it monitor surfing history.
“The anecdotal chat room evidence described in these reports is not accurate,” he said, adding that for example, the company does not terminate customers for repeated violations of copyright infringemetns. Comcast’s Copyright Alert System, also known as Six Strikes, is meant to be an educational tool and is non-punitive, Livingood said.
“We respect customer privacy and security and only investigate and disclose certain information about a customer’s account with a valid court order or other appropriate legal process, just like other ISPs,” Livingood said. “Our customers can use Tor at any time, as I have myself. I’m sure many of them are using it right now.”