Last week, the Senate voted along party lines to approve regulatory changes that would overturn currently existing regulations that limit what ISPs are allowed to do with your internet browsing data. Today, the House votes on a similar message. If you care at all about the concept of user privacy, you should call your Congressional representative. The EFF has an article on how changing these rules would allow companies to begin a fresh assault on consumer data protection or go back to a number of practices they are currently not allowed to do. Instructions for how to contact your Congressional representative are at the bottom of the EFF article.
Here’s the situation in a nutshell. In October, 2016 the FCC enacted privacy rules that would require ISPs to use an opt-in process in some cases before it sold consumer data to third parties. Different types of data were protected differently. Bulk aggregate information, like how much data you used, were classified as non-sensitive and could be managed via opt-out. But sensitive information like social security numbers, credit card numbers, and your web browsing history could only be sold if you, the consumer, opted in to these programs.
The FCC rules were based around four main points:
- Consumers must be informed of what data the ISP collects, how it is used, and who it is shared with.
- No sensitive information can be shared unless a consumer opts in to sharing it.
- ISPs are required to take “reasonable measures” to keep consumer data secure.
- ISPs are required to give customers timely notice of data breaches and to work with law enforcement in the event of a major breach.
As you might imagine, the telecom industry hated these laws, and with the GOP controlling both the House and Senate, the rules are about to be reversed. Furthermore, Marsha Blackburn’s proposed bill would prevent the FCC from approving any “substantially similar” laws guarding privacy in the future without Congressional authorization.
One argument ISPs have made is that they’re being held to a higher standard than, say, Facebook or YouTube. This argument disintegrates under any logical consideration not bought and paid for by the telecom industry. If I don’t want to use YouTube or Facebook, I can choose not to. I can delete my accounts, purge my machine of all cookies, and never visit either site again. So-called “edge” services may account for huge amounts of internet traffic, but they aren’t the complete gateway into everyone’s internet use.
Your ISP, in contrast, knows literally everything you search for, every time you search — provided, of course, you aren’t using a VPN. With 65% of Americans having access to 1-2 ISPs, there’s no practical way for many customers to switch service to a company that might theoretically use promises of refraining from these activities to attract users.
Services like YouTube and Facebook are also nominally free. ISPs very much aren’t. Privacy and the protection thereof shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but the GOP’s willingness to kowtow to the telecom industry has turned it into one. One wonders how many Americans actually support gutting their own privacy protections in favor of allowing companies like Verizon and Chartered to make a little more money selling their personal data.
Now read: Protect your online privacy with these 5 best VPNs and 19 ways to stay anonymous and protect your online privacy