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Comcast: Report On 'Tor' Policy ‘Wildly Inaccurate’

Comcast said a report at DeepDotWeb claiming that some Comcast high-speed customers have been told they run the risk of service termination if they use Tor, a browser that has gained in popularity due to its focus on keeping users relatively anonymous, is false.

DeepDotWeb’s story cited anecdotal evidence using information from anonymous Comcast customers claiming that a number of service reps, including one named “Kelly,” told them that Tor “wasn’t legal,” and that continued usage could result in the disconnection.

The story “is wildly inaccurate,” a Comcast spokesman said. "We have no policy against the use of Tor," he said, noting that the anecdotal information in the story is not consistent with Comcast’s messaging from agents in its Security Assurance team.

Comcast, which said its own internal investigation could not turn evidence showing exchanges between its reps and purported customers as described in the DeepDotWeb story or find a member of its security assurance team named Kelly, also shot down assertions in the story that the operator would ask customers for information about the Web sites they had visited.

While Comcast, like all ISPs, have acceptable use policies, the company said it does not monitor specific usage or the software they have installed on their machines.

 “We respect our customers’ privacy and security and we only investigate or disclose information about a customer’s account with a valid court order,” the Comcast spokesman said.

Additionally, service termination is not currently a component of Comcast’s Copyright Alert System (a.k.a. “Six Strikes”) policy. The policy’s “mitigation” phase, which comes into play if a customer receives more than four alerts (sent via email and through in-browser messages), the customer will be faced with a persistent in-browser alert that requires the customer to call its Security Assurance team.

While the Tor browser notes that it is a “pre-configured web browser to protect your anonymity, and is self-contained,” it does note in its FAQ that “[f]ile sharing…is widely unwanted on Tor,” and that aps such as BitTorrent is not anonymous on Tor.

According to Tor’s overview, it uses a network of "virtual tunnels" that allow people and groups to increase their Internet privacy. Tor, the site adds, was “originally developed with the U.S. Navy in mind, for the primary purpose of protecting government communications,” but notes it’s used today by “a wide variety of purposes by normal people, the military, journalists, law enforcement officers, activists, and many others."

Update: Comcast also responded to the report Monday via a blog posting aimed at "setting the record straight” on the Tor topic.

“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,” Jason Livingood, Comcast’s VP, Internet & communications engineering, wrote. “Our customers can use Tor at any time, as I have myself.  I’m sure many of them using it right now.”

While the report “may have generated a lot of clicks but is totally inaccurate,” Livingood added, reiterating that Comcast doesn’t monitor its customer’s browser software, web surfing or online history, and that Comcast does not terminate customers for Copyright Alert System violations.

Update II: An official with Tor said there was not enough information to comment on the allegations pointed at Comcast in the DeepDotWeb story, but noted that Tor does have a project called the Open Observatory of Network Interference that can track whether Internet access is being restricted. "People with uncensored connections to the Internet can use Tor to share their access with human rights defenders and journalists behind national firewalls. We tend to have good relationships with Internet Service Providers in free societies for this reason," the official added.