Enforcing Internet Service Providers’ Terms of Service

May 18, 2019

Recently in our travels, we saw this billboard signage:

As an online safety, digital literacy, and self-protection company that has presented internationally to over 455,000 teens, I applaud the community service work that many broadband and cellular internet service providers (ISP’s) deliver specific to online safety and anti-bullying initiatives. Having said this, these same companies need to be introspective about how their products help to spread less-than-desirable online digital behaviour.

According to Statistics Canada, 25.5 million people in Canada use smartphones—70% of the population, a significant cohort to this population are teens. In fact, according to Media Smarts Canada, 49% of Canadian grade 4 students own a smartphone [1]. We can confirm from our experience that this is something we see at every school that we visit.

The Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunication Commission (CRTC) estimates that internet service revenues climbed to $10.2 billion in 2016 [2]. Four years later, I would suggest that given the significant increase in the number of Canadians carrying cellphones, those profits will be much higher.

It has been our experience, which is reflected in the research, that teens have transitioned over to smartphones as their primary way to access the internet and social media. It is because of this fact that we are now seeing some teens using mobile as their primary tool to target others with violence, online extortion involving nudes, and other less-than-desirable behaviour. Often this undesirable online behaviour is spread via cellular and broadband networks.

In May 2016, we published an article where we spoke to the fact that all Canadian broadband and cellular ISP’s have a “Terms of Service” (TOS) [3]. Every Canadian broadband and cellular ISP TOS that we have read clearly states that the use of their networks to propagate undesirable and/or criminal behaviour is prohibited and includes such examples as:

  • obscene, profane, pornographic content;
  • defamatory, fraudulent, or deceptive statements;
  • threatening, intimidating, abusive, or harassing statements;
  • content that violates the privacy rights or intellectual property rights of others;
  • content that unlawfully promotes or incites hatred;
  • content that is otherwise offensive or objectionable; or
  • any transmissions constituting or encouraging conduct that would constitute a criminal offence, give rise to civil liability or otherwise violate any municipal, provincial, federal, or international law, order, or regulation.

Additionally, within these terms and conditions, a violation of their TOS could lead to restrictions, such as stated in Rogers TOS [4]:

“temporary or permanent removal of content, cancellation of newsgroup posts, filtering of Internet transmissions, and/or the immediate suspension or termination of all or any portion of the Services or your account.”

Being safety advocates and online investigators, twice now we have attempted to report such violations to two separate cellular providers regarding someone violently violating the TOS. In these two instances, we have yet to be connected with anyone who would take our complaint. Both ISPs stated that they would get back to us with a contact name, which never happened. This is interesting to us because when we have done the same thing with several social media platforms, not only was there a clear process to report such violations, but action was often taken within 24-48 hours, sometimes much quicker depending upon the violation such as child pornography, which included the banning of a user in several cases. We have yet to hear of one case where a broadband or cellular ISP has taken the same action against a teen who was using their network as a weapon to cyberbully or to sexually extort someone (or what we call sextortion), in a clear violation of their TOS.

Again, it’s great that many of these broadband and cellular ISPs have robust community service initiatives specific to online safety and combating cyberbullying. However, as the old adage says, “this is like putting lipstick on a pig” if they are not enforcing their own TOS, especially when such violations are brought to their attention. These broadband and cellular ISPs need to own the fact that “some” are using their networks to target others in clear violation of their own TOS. These same broadband and cellular ISPs should be stepping up to the plate and enforcing their TOS to help combat these challenges. It’s not just about feeling good (community service initiatives); it’s also about doing good internally (enforcing a TOS).

Why aren’t broadband and cellular ISPs enforcing their own TOS’s? The only reason we can think of is that it is not in their financial interest to do so. To ensure a robust reporting system that is monitored and policed takes money. It is also a reality that by taking corrective measures against violators could mean the loss of a customer. In their for-profit corporate world, customer acquisition, and more importantly customer retention, is their prime directive and often outdoes other concerns. In a 10.2-billion-dollar profit-driven industry, surely there is financial room to take a more proactive approach (enforcing their own TOS) rather than just a reactive approach (community service outreach programs). In our opinion, both approaches should be synergized, thus why we believe that creating a safer, friendlier world online starts within. In our 2016 article mentioned above, we offered a challenge to all broadband and cellular ISPs that we would be more than happy to sit down with them to share our thoughts and ideas specific to this challenge given our expertise. Not surprisingly, three years later not one company has reached out to us for our thoughts.

If you, the reader believe that broadband and cellular ISPs should be taking on a more active role in enforcing their TOS’s specific to cyberbullying and other less-than-desirable online behaviour, then forward this message to your friends and let these companies hear your voice.

We will continue to advocate for greater solutions to online safety and we are always willing to work with any ISP that wishes to work with us on these goals.

Digital Food for Thought

The White Hatter






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