Privacy SOS

Comcast rep reportedly tells customer to ditch Tor, because wanting privacy is suspicious

See update at bottom: Comcast denial.

An extremely alarming report from Deep Dot Web, citing a reddit user and a reader, says Comcast has begun contacting customers to tell them to stop using Tor, an internet anonymizing service.

Deep Dot Web:

A Comcast agent named Jeremy allegedly called Tor an “illegal service.” The Comcast agent told its customer that such activity is against usage policies.

The Comcast agent then repeatedly asked the customer to tell him what sites he was accessing on the Tor browser. The customer refused to answer.

The next day the customer called Comcast and spoke to another agent named Kelly who reiterated that Comcast does not want its customers using Tor. The Comcast agent then allegedly told the customer:

"Users who try to use anonymity, or cover themselves up on the internet, are usually doing things that aren’t so-to-speak legal. We have the right to terminate,   fine, or suspend your account at anytime due to you violating the rules. Do you have any other questions? Thank you for contacting Comcast, have a great day."

If this is true, it's frightening. In Boston, where I live, Comcast provides the only high speed internet service available to consumers. And those of us in my neighborhood aren't alone: reports say that if the Comcast Time Warner merger goes through, 61% of Americans will only have one option for high speed cable internet. The other provider, available elsewhere, is Verizon FIOS. For the vast majority of consumers, that's it.

We are in serious trouble if these monopolistic corporations start blocking access to privacy services. Sadly, if Comcast really thinks that people who want privacy are "usually doing" illegal things, they aren't alone. That's exactly the authoritarian attitude the NSA takes in its internal documents, where officials list "dissidents" and "terrorists" among possible "targets" who use Tor.

Thus far we haven't learned anything from the Snowden files about an NSA-Comcast relationship involving improper disclosures of our private information. But we know the NSA and US domestic intelligence agencies do not like Tor or other anonymizing services, and have been working to undermine their efficacy. We also know that antitrust officials at the Department of Justice—which regularly works with the NSA to obtain FISA court authorization to conduct dragnet domestic spying, among other things—have a "cozy relationship" with Comcast executives.

It sure makes you wonder about why Comcast might have an interest in cracking down on Tor users.

UPDATE (9/15/14): A Comcast Vice President has taken to the corporate blog to deny in no uncertain terms that the company has threatened users to stop running Tor:

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. Customers are free to use their Xfinity Internet service to visit any website, use any app, and so forth. 

Here are the facts:

  • Comcast doesn’t monitor our customer’s browser software, web surfing or online history.

  • The anecdotal chat room evidence described in these reports is not accurate.  

  • 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. More information about these policies can be found in our Transparency Report here.

  • We do not terminate customers for violating the Copyright Alert System (aka "six strikes"), which is a non-punitive, educational and voluntary copyright program. Read more here.

Our customers can use Tor at any time, as I have myself.  I’m sure many of them are using it right now.

Good to know.

© 2021 ACLU of Massachusetts.