Comcast Corp. would still be collecting information about the Internet travels of its customers, if not for an Associated Press report that broke this week telling the world and Comcast's 1 million high-speed Internet subscribers that they were being watched, and that everywhere they went on the World Wide Web was being recorded.
It was outrageous for the company to track users, and it may have been in violation of federal law, as well. While a 1984 law allows cable operators to collect information about viewers' television habits, that was only for the purpose of gathering data to help the companies improve their service. The law never envisioned the kind of Web-tracking information Comcast was doing.
Comcast said this data collection was being used to improve service, so it falls within the spirit of the law. But neither America Online nor Earthlink watch where their combined 35 million customers go on the Internet.
What's important here is that Comcast has changed its tune, and will stop the practice.
The more important a lesson, however, is the role of the press in blowing the whistle on this gross violation of people's privacy rights.