Your internet service provider could have a good idea of who you’re planning to vote for in the 2024 election as well as the gender of the last person you slept with—and it’s saving that information for later. Major internet providers, like Comcast’s Xfinity, stockpile more revealing data than users might initially realize.
For example, Xfinity customers are automatically opted in to allow the company to store sensitive personal information. This could include your “race, ethnicity, political affiliations, or philosophical beliefs,” according to Xfinity’s website. Your sexual orientation, immigration status, biometric info, and precise location are also considered to be sensitive data. While Comcast does not sell this info, the company does use sensitive data in a variety of ways, like to serve up personalized ads and recommendations.
There are many reasons to be anxious about this kind of data collection. Xfinity itself was recently hacked; the personal data of over 30 million customers was stolen in October of last year, yet the breach was revealed by the company to users two months after the fact. (Definitely change your Xfinity password right now, and turn on two factor-authentication if you haven’t already.)
The good news is that you can take steps to opt out of Comcast’s data storage—although there are limitations on how far the privacy options go. Also, if you live in a state with supplemental privacy legislation, then you might have the right to request and receive more details about your collected data.
How to Change Your Sensitive Personal Information Settings
You don’t have to log in to the Xfinity website with your username and password to make this settings change, but be forewarned: You will be asked to fork over your email, phone number, and location.
Start by visiting Xfinity’s Privacy Center and scrolling down to Review your privacy preferences. Then, click on Manage your information and skim through all the available options to get a better grasp on your choices. Find the Sensitive personal information preferences section, and choose Review settings.
This next step was sometimes quite slow to load during my testing, so a little patience might be necessary. When it eventually pops up, fill out the form and click Continue. You may be asked to confirm the provided address. Finally, after all that clicking, locate the toggle labeled Storage and usage of sensitive personal information that appears on the last page and switch it off.
It’s worth pointing out a crucial caveat from Comcast about how the setting works. The catch is that this toggle impacts the use of your personal data only in Comcast’s advertising, marketing, and recommendations systems. “Even when off, we may still use your sensitive personal information for certain purposes, including to provide your Services, security purposes, and fraud monitoring,” reads a disclaimer right below the toggle. While some data collection may be necessary to operate basic services, the lack of accessible, granular control over what’s stored is disappointing.
Depending on where you live in the US, you can learn more about what Comcast stores and scrub it. In the following five states, you have the right to receive more details about the data Xfinity collects about you: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, and Virginia. By residing here, you have the right to receive details about the gathered data and have personal info deleted. Your right to correct inaccurate info is codified in all of these states as well, except for Utah.
Anyone can technically fill out the form and make the request regardless of location, but you might not receive a real answer if you live somewhere without the legal protections. Even in the states where you are legally covered, be prepared to wait. Comcast may take up to a month to process requests from Xfinity customers, and will notify you if the process ends up stretching out even longer.