BT officials have admitted to keeping tabs on the Local Area Networks (LANs) of their broadband customers. They claim to reserve the right to examine the networks of their broadband customers whenever they feel the information can improve the service they provide, or when the safety of their customers is placed at risk.
The practice was revealed last week, when BT contacted customers who were still using powerline networking (PLT) boxes which BT had discovered a manufacturing flaw in. The company had subsequently sent out replacements last October; however some customers had ignored the advice and continued to use the originals.
BT then sent out letters explaining that “remote diagnostic tests” had shown the potentially dangerous devices were still connected. Considering PLTs do not have an IP address to identify them by, the likely explanation is that BT runs a scan of Media Access Control (MAC) addresses from the main router. These are unique identifiers which help devices to communicate with each other on a network.
BT considers this process to be similar to Windows Update from Microsoft, but unlike that program it lacks an opt-out. There is a clear financial benefit for ISPs to have access to this information, as they can market certain products to customers based on what equipment they already have attached to their network. If they can identify useful products which aren’t connected, they can tailor their marketing towards these items. Alternatively, if for example an IP-capable TV is attached, they can advertise connected services which utilise this.
A statement from BT read:
“…there may be other circumstances in which we would carry out remote diagnostic tests of customers' equipment to make sure all is working. We don't believe that consent is necessary where the testing is necessary to the service that we are providing.”
The majority of everyday customers are unlikely to be troubled by this revelation, but those with concerns about privacy will wonder what BT intends to do with access to this sort of information, and how long it is stored for.