If you're not already wearing your tin-foil helmet you now have 10 seconds.
Ok your time is up. Wired has sent out a few probing questions to bigger ISPs to see what kind of data they collect on their usage of their users and what it would take for them to turn that same information over to various 3rd parties..
"Wired News, with help from some readers, attempted to get real answers
from the largest United States-based ISPs about what information they
gather on their customers' use of the internet, and how long they
retain records like IP addresses, e-mail and real-time browsing
activity. Most importantly, we asked what they require from
law-enforcement agencies before coughing up the data, and whether they
sell your data to marketers.
Only four of the eight largest ISPs responded to the 10-question
survey, despite being contacted repeatedly over the course of two
months. Some ISPs wouldn't talk to us, but gave answers to customers
responding to a call for reader help on Wired's Threat Level blog."
Sadly not all of the ISPs questioned chose to answer all of the
questions that were asked. Here's a list of who Wired chose to ask: AOL, AT&T, Cox
Communications, COMCAST, Earthlink, QWEST, Verizon, and Time Warner. Of course even when they did answer, it was sometimes evasive or not very specific.
There doesn't seem to be any specific mention of piracy or the war on terror in the article, but they do touch on child pornography and how long various ISPs might keep records of such things.
As for sharing information on customers browsing and shopping habits, things get a
bit murky. The problem here is that there is no real industry standard
on exactly how this information should be striped of relevant customer
indentifying data to be made anonymous but not worthless. Obviously market researchers are willing to pay more money for more accurate data, and this could cause ISPs to walk a thin line between profit and the anonymity of their customers.
You might find it instructive to contact your own ISP and check what
policies they have regarding the data they gather from your browsing
and online shopping, who they turn it over to, and how it can be used.