Internet providers collect 'staggering' amounts of data -U.S. FTC chair

People look at their smartphones at the Rockefeller center in New York City, U.S., May 8, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/Files

WASHINGTON, Oct 21 (Reuters) - Internet service providers collect a "staggering" amount of detailed data on consumers, Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan said on Thursday in discussing an agency staff report on information collected by major providers like AT&T (T.N) and Verizon Wireless.

"We intend this report to be the continuation of an ongoing discussion about commercial data practices, and user privacy," said Khan, who noted that the data collected could also crop up as an issue in merger reviews.

For the report, the FTC requested information from AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Charter, Comcast's (CMCSA.O) Xfinity, Alphabet Inc.'s (GOOGL.O) Google Fiber and T-Mobile (TMUS.O) as well as advertising firms associated with AT&T and Verizon.

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The agency staff found that some companies collected data about browsing histories, what is streamed, sensitive characteristics like race and sexual orientation and real-time location, which it found were sometimes shared with third parties.

The report also found that some ISPs kept consumer data for a set period of time but others said they kept it as long as needed.

"The report found that even in instances where internet service providers purported to offer customers some choice with respect to how their data was collected or used, in practice users were often thwarted by design decisions that made it complicated, difficult or near impossible to actually escape persistent tracking," Khan said.

The FTC took oversight of ISPs in 2017 from the Federal Communications Commission. Khan, however, said she would "fully support efforts to reassert that authority."

Comcast has said that it does not track what websites users visit or apps that consumers use on broadband connections.Google and Verizon declined comment while the others did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Mark Porter

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