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Your internet privacy – a thing of the past?

June 24, 2017

by Linda Kennedy

Remember when you were a child and adults told you that you had better do right because “someone” is always watching? They meant God, but these days there is also a human made omnipotence watching your every move.

Your internet service provider (ISP) is an all seeing eye in the clouds. That reality is not so new. What is new is that ISPs can legally sell your entire web browsing history to anyone who wants it.

Mignon Clyburn

They don’t have to ask you first and they don’t have to let you know they did it. If someone is interested in what you look up on the internet or those private emails you have been keeping, they are for sale.

Rules which would have gone into effect later this year mandated that ISPs get your permission prior to collecting your personal online history. The regulations were agreed upon last October by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) during the Obama administration, when most of the commissioners were Democrats. The FCC is now controlled by Trump Republicans, with Commissioner Ajit Pai at the helm, and the new rules were rolled back.

The FCC’s only Democrat, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, has plenty to say. “This administration has made it a priority to adopt communications policies that are the antithesis of #ConsumersFirst,” said Commissioner Clyburn. “This legislation will frustrate the FCC’s future efforts to protect the privacy of voice and broadband customers. It also creates a massive gap in consumer protection law as broadband and cable companies now have no discernible privacy requirements.”

“This administration has made it a priority to adopt communications policies that are the antithesis of #ConsumersFirst,” said Commissioner Clyburn.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which regulates Google and Facebook, also has concerns. “What this means, in effect, is that consumers with a broadband subscription will be less protected because the only cop on the beat has been taken off their patrol,” said FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny.

“In an age of internet connected everything, removing security requirements from broadband providers is needlessly dangerous for American consumers. The rules the FCC adopted conform to long standing FTC practice and provide clear rules on how broadband companies should protect their customers’ personal information. This action weakens the security requirement guarding every consumer’s most personal data and should be reconsidered.”

For example, Facebook knows you are a college graduate, an NAACP member, married, with a 2-year-old daughter and a clerical job you think is beneath you. Your ISP knows all that and your bank balance, your social security number and that someone who uses your computer might have a cancerous mole.

“In an age of internet connected everything, removing security requirements from broadband providers is needlessly dangerous for American consumers.”

Of course, not every site you visit or email you hold on to is of interest to anyone but you. It is what your online activity says about you that ISPs are selling and advertisers exploiting. What consumer sites you visit, how much money you spend, if you are in debt, and what you buy online is what whets the advertisers’ appetite. That information can mean billions to those who use personal information to sell specifically to you.

The new administration pre-empted the regulations because Donald Trump believes they were unfair and placed too many restraints on ISPs such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T. Boo hoo. Instead, the ISPs will be allowed to self-regulate.

Consumer groups and experts in technology policy believe that with no rules and no government oversight, you will not be protected. Those rules were a safeguard for your privacy. Without the restrictions, it’s a free for all. Internet providers may decide to collect even more data about you and keep it longer.

The new administration pre-empted the regulations because Donald Trump believes they were unfair and placed too many restraints on ISPs such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T. Boo hoo. Instead, the ISPs will be allowed to self-regulate.

You may not notice a difference yet, since the privacy regulations never took effect. The reality is, internet service providers have always monitored your online activity and Google and Facebook legally shared some of it with advertisers. We are on a slippery slope, however.

You can avoid Facebook and even Google, but our society is so dependent on the internet, it is almost impossible to avoid ISPs. Internet providers with more power, and no oversight, are a recipe for abuse.

Your browsing history can be appropriated, shared, and/or sold to any third party, corporation or government with the funds to buy it. Since ISPs can sell your information to advertisers, you will likely get more pop-up ads targeted to your preferences. Factory installed monitoring software could be on your next phone or tablet.

Our society is so dependent on the internet, it is almost impossible to avoid ISPs. Internet providers with more power, and no oversight, are a recipe for abuse.

Technology is constantly evolving; these concerns are based solely on what exists now. It will probably get worse.

Linda Kennedy is a freelance broadcast and print journalist who teaches media literacy and lives in Seattle, Wash. She can be reached at lindakennedymedia@gmail.com.

3 thoughts on “Your internet privacy – a thing of the past?

  1. David

    So privacy watchdogs and lawmakers are stepping up the pressure, calling for laws that would require companies to stop the digital surveillance of consumers who don't want to be tracked. They argue that effective privacy tools are long overdue from an industry that typically moves at breakneck speed. find out best android tablets in cheap rates at android tablets in pakistan

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