Imagine if Microsoft pushed an update to your computer that started recording everything you write in Word and shipped it back to Redmond. Or if the phone on your desk was upgraded to send details of your calls not only to the telecommunications provider, but also to the handset maker.
That’s what some users feared was happening to their Internet histories when Cisco Systems pushed out an update for new Linksys Smart Wi-Fi routers this week. The update moved the routers to a new cloud-based management system called Cisco Connect Cloud — and came with an ominous warning in the terms of service that the routers would record users’ Internet histories as part of the arrangement.
When you use the Service, we may keep track of certain information related to your use of the Service, including but not limited to the status and health of your network and networked products; which apps relating to the Service you are using; which features you are using within the Service infrastructure; network traffic (e.g., megabytes per hour); Internet history; how frequently you encounter errors on the Service system and other related information (“Other Information”). We use this Other Information to help us quickly and efficiently respond to inquiries and requests, and to enhance or administer our overall Service for our customers.
Some technologists and privacy advocates were unnerved, complaining Friday on Internet forums such as Slashdot and Reddit that Cisco’s move was a breach of privacy. Some said they would dump Linksys over the issue. Home routers generally don’t do much of anything except act as passive intermediaries, handing off traffic to Internet service providers without keeping a log.
“The language in the terms of service is really worrying,” said Aaron Brauer-Rieke, a fellow at the Center for Democracy & Technology, an online-rights group, in an interview. “That’s an incredible swath of information, when you think about the fact that your router is the first thing your computer talks to before the ISP to go to the Internet. That could be every Internet address you access when you’re online.”
A Cisco executive said the company made a mistake in its terms of service and is changing the language on the website.
In a statement, Brett Wingo, general manager of Cisco’s home networking division, said:
“We are absolutely not tracking Internet history, nor do we intend to. We recognize that some of the words in the statement are unclear. We are taking immediate steps to modify this language to be more specific about our commitment to protect the personal privacy of our customers...”