The access point companies say they don’t monitor the sites you visit, but rather collect and share user marketing data.
A wireless Wi-Fi router is the central hub of your home network, meaning that all traffic from all the Wi-Fi devices under your home’s roof passes through it on its way to the cloud. That’s a lot of data – enough that privacy is a reasonable concern.
The problem is that it is almost impossible for the average consumer to know much about the privacy practices of the companies that make and sell routers. The practice of data collection is complex at first and most privacy policies highlight it poorly. Getting ready to read the lengthy legal letter that fills it is no easy task. Even if you read it, you will likely have more questions than answers.
“You’ll often see text that says, ‘We collect X, Y, and Z data and we can share it with our business partners and we can share it for any of these seven different reasons, and they’re all very vague,'” he added.
Many of these policies were written to cover all of the company’s products, as well as services and websites. In practice, this means that much of what is written may not be relevant to routers at all.
It is almost impossible to accurately understand the rules
Then there is the issue of length. Simply put, none of these privacy policies allow speed reading. Most are written in carefully crafted legal language, and are designed more to protect business than inform the consumer.
A few manufacturers are starting to improve this mess a bit, with transparent sections designed to summarize key points in plain English, but even then the details are usually few, meaning you’ll need to dig deeper into the nitty-gritty to understand what’s going on with your data.
In cases where the Company uses a third-party partner to provide additional services, such as threat detection or a virtual private network, you may need to read more privacy policies to fully monitor what is happening and what your information is being used for.
In fact, some data improves the experience
Almost all of your home’s web traffic runs through your router, so it can be hard to imagine such a device not keeping track of the sites you visit while browsing. Every major vendor discloses that it collects some form of user data for marketing purposes – but few policies include an answer that would explicitly answer the question of whether a user should expect their online history to be passed anywhere.
One exception is said to be Google. Google Wifi and Google Home, Google Wifi, and Nest Wifi features do not track the sites you visit nor collect content from any traffic on your network, but the Google Privacy Support page states: “However, your Google Wifi and Nest Wifi devices Collect data such as which channel Wi-Fi is used on, signal strength and types of devices that are important to improve Wi-Fi performance.”
However, it is safe to say that Eero, Asus and Netgear do not collect any data, while TP-Link collects data “only” in browsing history, and only if parental mode is enabled.
Even if your router does not follow certain websites you visit, it still collects data while you are using it. A large part of this is technical information about your network and the devices you use, which the manufacturer needs to run smoothly and detect potential threats or other problems. Oftentimes, your router will also collect personal information, location information, and other identifiers for marketing purposes.