Internet providers in Maine are reassuring customers that they have nothing to fear about the repeal of federal rules governing the exploitation of users’ data, but they have a range of positions on what is and isn’t being protected.

Fletcher Kittredge, CEO of Biddeford-based GWI, is the most blunt, saying his company won’t so much as collect users’ internet data, better yet share or sell it, and that would only change over “my dead body.”

“We don’t collect it, and that means it’s not there to be stolen, and we would not share it and we would not sell it,” added Kittredge, whose company operates in all 16 of Maine’s counties, but its service area is concentrated in the larger towns and along major highways.

Similarly, Susan Corbett, CEO of Machias-based Axiom Technologies, says “we do not collect, store, distribute, or otherwise sell our subscriber information” and that it’s company policy “to work directly with our customers about their information being protected.” Her company provides broadband access across Washington County and on Chebeague Island.

The state’s largest provider, Charter Communications’ Time Warner Cable, referred inquiries about its policies to a company blog post that said it does not sell or share customers’ “web browsing histories to third parties” or their “information for personalized third-party marketing or advertising” and would provide customers notice “in the event that we change these business practices.”

FairPoint Communications spokeswoman Angelynne Beaudry said via email that the company “remained committed to protecting (customers’) private information” and that its privacy policy “prohibits the selling of customer information without permission.”

Comcast – the primary broadband provider in 11 towns in the Brunswick area – plus Kittery, Berwick, South Berwick and Eliot in southernmost Maine – referred inquiries to a blog post by company deputy general counsel Gerard Lewis, who used some ambiguous language. Lewis said the company doesn’t sell customers’ “individual web browsing history” and complied with laws preventing sharing of their banking, health, and children’s information without consent. It also noted that Comcast allows customers to opt out of their data being used to send them targeted ads.

It was not clear if the company sells aggregated Web browsing history information or if lists of internet locations an individual has visited – not precisely the same thing as the history collected in the individual’s Web browser – might be fair game, and a company spokesman, Marc Goodman, declined to clarify.

Goodman also declined to say why customers attempting to opt out of being tracked by the 41 advertising networks Comcast partners with are required to enable third-party cookies to do so. (Cookies are files websites place on your computer to track your identity, preferences, and behavior.)

Jeremy Gillula, senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the San Francisco-based digital civil liberties group, says this is problematic, as enabling such cookies would allow other third parties to track you online. “Requiring third-party cookies to opt-out of online tracking is a terrible design decision,” he says.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at:

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