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Vodafone Privacy Policy Reveals Data ISP Collects from Your Network

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020 (2:18 pm) - Score 5,112

Customers of Vodafone UK’s fixed line home broadband service (both FTTC and FTTH powered sides) may like to know that the ISP has recently updated their related Privacy Policy, which reveals just how much data they’re collecting from your home network and router. Some will be surprised, others will be “meh..

The change was first covered by The Register, which had in turn picked up on some customer gripes (here). In fairness the data being gathered by Vodafone doesn’t look all that unusual given the services they offer and it’s a positive sign that the provider has spelled this out in their privacy document, which is something that others could learn from.

Nevertheless some may be uncomfortable with the idea of a third-party company (Airties A.S) having access to process that data, even if Vodafone claim to have conducted checks to ensure that they’re not leaking out lots of sensitive stuff. A key extract from their policy can be found below.

NOTE: The Airties A.S data is hosted on Amazon servers in Ireland, thus keeping it within EU data rules (potentially they might have to move this post-Brexit).

Extract from Vodafone’s Privacy Policy (Home Broadband)

Home Broadband and Wi-Fi

Vodafone Home Broadband provides your hardware with connectivity in the home. In order for you to be able to access the internet, we process data such as the kind of device you are browsing on (for example, each device will have a media access control (MAC) address), your browsing speeds, and the amount of data you’re using (for example, streaming videos will use up more data than email, although we don’t see what it is you’re doing).

For providing end user support and optimizing your WiFi experience we are collecting information about connected devices (MAC address, Serial Number, user given host names and WiFi connection quality) as well as information about the WiFi networks (MAC addresses and identifiers, radio statistics).

Personal information we collect about you

Information about the Wi-Fi network of your home may be collected and sent to the Vodafone platform.

This platform is facilitated by a third party provider called Airties A.S.. Through this platform, this information may be accessed by the Customer Service Department in the event that the user calls us to report any type of problem with their Wifi or may be treated by your Network Maintenance and Operations Service to Resolve any issues. This information will be obtained from the Wifi devices or those connected to it.

Now while we can’t explain precisely why every single piece of data is gathered, we can take a stab at why most of it might be needed. Obviously an ISP wouldn’t be able to do its core task of providing you with internet access if they couldn’t control and process the traffic going over that connection in the first place, some of which is required by law (Investigatory Powers Act) to be logged (server IP addresses, volume of data, dates, times etc.).

Ofcom’s recently revised broadband speed code of practice has also caused signatory ISPs to build additional code into their routers, which enables them to more accurately test the speed of your connection without things like WiFi or local network load getting in the way. This is quite a useful tool for both them and end-users alike, enabling better monitoring of connection performance, stability and thus quality.

On top of that Vodafone, much like most of the other major broadband ISPs, are introducing various Mesh WiFi and cloud-based WiFi optimisation services that can learn where your wireless coverage is weakest by analysing its setup and the devices on your local area network (here).

Obviously the above algorithms cannot function unless they have some visibility of your local network environment and the devices, as well as related radio statistics, within it. Not to mention the ability to make remote tweaks to your WiFi in order to improve its performance. As above, such features are becoming fairly common among big ISPs today.

A Vodafone Spokesperson said:

“We are investing to improve the home broadband Wi-Fi experience for our customers. The speed and reliability of a Wi-Fi connection can suffer as more devices are connected in the home and from increased interference from similar devices in neighbouring houses and flats. Our service helps overcome these issues.”

The good news is that one Vodafone agent initially suggested that customers should be able to opt-out of this (“as is their right“), although in order to do so you’ll have to manually fill out this form rather than click a simple switch in your account. “Our privacy team will [then] investigate your request for you,” said the support agent in a somewhat non-committal way.

However Vodafone’s official spokesperson later confused matters slightly by saying, “We are not providing an opt out mechanism because this is an essential service to give customers an improved home broadband experience.” Of course one way around this would be to use a third-party router and mesh WiFi system, rather than the one provided by Vodafone, which would reduce their ability to nosy around your LAN.

On the other hand it should be remembered that ISPs are generally providing these features as a means of helping to improve your connection, WiFi and customer support. The goal is not an evil one, even if the execution could perhaps benefit from a little more flexibility and end-user control (choice).

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
15 Responses
  1. CarlT says:

    I’m not going to name names but they most definitely are not the only ISP that does this.

    1. Mark Jackson says:

      Hence “most of the other major broadband ISPs.”

    2. Simon says:

      I remember when trying to unlock a router to gain better access to line stats this specific ISP had their own daemon process running on busybox.. Harvesting all kinds of information 24/7 Also TR-069 spec. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/TR-069) can force through firmware changes and more. The major ISPs have been collecting information on its users in various forms for various reasons for YEARS

    3. Andrew Campling says:

      Most ISPs will collect some basic data on traffic for cyber intelligence purposes and to protect their networks from malware etc. In my view this is a good thing as it protects all their customers from the misfortune of any that fall foul of malware etc, as well as protecting the networks themselves.

      I don’t believe any mainstream providers monetise user data by selling it to third parties as, at least until the end of 2020, GDPR is a useful disincentive!

  2. SimonR says:

    I plan on switching to Voda when they reach my street, but I’ve already got my own router/wi-fi setup. Not for nefarious activities, but more because I don’t want my home network tied to whether or not my ISP is any good.

    After Virgin’s appalling hardware, I can’t be the only one flying solo. Just give me a WAN port…

    1. DAN says:

      Yeah its easy enough you have a wan port to use with any router.

      Though i havn’t found fault in vodafones provided router so far.

    2. SimonR says:

      Thanks Dan. I’m sure there’s is fine, but I’ve got mine all set up (OpenVPN and Ubiquiti wi-fi). I’d rather it was just a straight swap. Maybe in a few years when my stuff’s out of date…

    1. gary says:

      And theyre so great it wouldnt even connect to the box in the room directly above, I’ve got them hard networked together, usually not an issue at all, exept when one or the other has been powered off, Theyre damn persistant at trying to connect via their own WiFi.

      Likely works ok for most people i guess.

  3. Sherculisa says:

    Same Sky, BT and TalkTalk problem broadband internet connection Wi-Fi too break down not working properly capitalize either way when Network fix too expensive cannot IP address no support make password hidden be careful. I have Virgin Media SuperHub 3 and SuperHub 4 is been service available this okay just fine. All right goodbye everyone.

    1. john says:

      Phil you have everything everywhere and nothing nowhere – that’s a catchy title you should.

      Oh wait.. someone else already did.

    2. New_Londoner says:

      More spambot nonsense from Sherculisa. Can users be blocked from making comments on the site?

  4. Essa Moshiri says:

    While concerned that this information is collected, yet what is more of a concern is that the data collected is shared with “Third Party”

    “This platform is facilitated by a third party provider called Airties A.S”

    I would ask, what sort of security do they have in place to protect my data? Do the third party provider able to sell this data to other organisation?

    I would argue that this information is private and therefore the GDPR directive will be impacted, I.E if i decide to opt out i should be able to.

    1. aa says:

      You could contact privacy@airties.com & ask them further questions, or contact Vodafone.

  5. dragon says:

    TR-69 itself can often be used to get information about the devices connected to the router in addition to remote firmware upgrade.etc

    Also some vendors have settings that are not exposed in the webUI anywhere and are only configurable via TR-69 or CLI (If they even have a CLI)

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