For the record, I thought WhiteHouse.com was an official White House account.
This week the House and Senate voted to do away with many of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) protections regarding consumer Internet privacy. As you may have guessed, the Internet at-large was not pleased.
— Max Temkin (@MaxTemkin) March 27, 2017
You know who co-sponsored the legislation allowing Internet Service Providers to sell your web history?
Rand Paul. https://t.co/fzZjb4m7tp
— Matt Fuller (@MEPFuller) March 27, 2017
So what’s the takeaways from these new Republican provisions? Let’s take a closer look!
Takeaway #1: This move has absolutely nothing to do with “empowering consumers.”
There’s no easy way to say it, Congressional Republicans just sold consumers up the river with this one!
In October of last year, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had created regulations that would have made it harder for ISPs (ie the people you get your Internet from) to release collected information from their customers’ Internet usage (like browsing history, app usage, location, ect). This move from the FCC not only would have put consumer privacy in the fore-front, but also would make it harder for hackers and thieves to attain that sweet, sweet consumer data.
However, Republicans in both the House and Senate this week voted to nullify that provision. That means ISP providers would be allowed to sell consumer information that they collect to advertisers and third-parties, without having to notify their customers. And considering selling that consumer data is a $83 billion (!!!) business, they are most definitely going to sell that information.
Congressional Republicans had tried to frame their vote as “empowering consumers” by not letting government regulation limit ISPs. The truth is though, this move gives Internet providers new ways of monetization, in exchange for their customer privacy. Repeat, THERE IS NOTHING GOOD FOR CONSUMERS IN THIS PROVISION BY REPUBLICANS!!
While many will argue that companies like Netflix and Facebook already sell their user data to advertisers, consumer advocates would counter by saying that Internet providers have so much more personal data on their customers that include Social Security numbers and browsing histories, that the selling of ISPs user data is much more damaging to consumer privacy.
Takeaway #2: There is no real way to protect yourself from this, unless you drastically change your Internet habits.
Considering President Donald Trump is expected to sign the legislative action into law, ISPs selling customer data to advertisers is now something everyone has to be cognizant about. So what can you do to at least make it harder on your Internet provider to get that data? Well, experts say there are two options:
- Use a VPN: Many consumer advocacy groups say browsing the web through a virtual private network (VPN) would ensure you’re going online through an encrypted/private channel. Granted, this isn’t a 100% confidential way of surfing the Internet – your browsing can be seen by your VPN service provider and law enforcement – still it will make your browsing habits unknown to your ISP who will see traffic coming from a random server rather than your home.
Use Tor: For those that want to become even more conspicuous online there is the third-party program of Tor. Unlike VPNs, Tor is free and will completely conceal you from advertisers or even the government! It looks to be the go-to program for those who want to go to the darker parts of the Internet.
While both actions are legitimate options, neither of them are very practical. Many major websites tend to block VPNs (like Netflix) and for Tor to be effective, you have to use the Tor browser which doesn’t work well with the majority of sites online. So the option here for many consumers is to either drastically change their Internet habits or to safeguard their Internet privacy. For most users though, they won’t be changing their Internet habits anytime soon.
Takeaway #3: It’s important to note that the new legislation does not give the government any more power to spy on anyone than they already had.
For everything the Republican provision does to make consumer’s data less private, one thing it doesn’t do is give the government more power to spy on its citizens. However, it does give the government another avenue for which it could potentially data mine when it comes to surveillance. Considering the CIA had previously tried to do something similar in 2013, the federal government utilizing data collected by ISPs isn’t completely out of the question, even if the government has more effective measures to do just that.
(Photo Credits: Pixabay.com, Google Images)