Your Privacy For Sale – Going Once, Going Twice…
Last week, Congress gave the green light to your internet service provider (ISP) to sell your private digital data to the highest bidder. You know that big bro moment when you see, for example, a product you were perusing on the internet suddenly show up as an ad in your social media feed? Get ready for a lot more of that, and more. While free-for-you services like Facebook and Google have been able to harvest and sell your data for some time now, Congress has apparently decided that the not-at-all-free-for-you services should be able to get in on the game too.
While you may not care too much if your browser history is sold, you should worry about the slippery slope for banking information, social security numbers, locations, etc. Here’s what you need to know and what you can do about it.
The Legal Rigmarole
Back in October of 2016, under the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission established new rules that required ISPs to seek your permission before selling any sensitive digital data. Before they even went into effect, however, Congress overturned those rules (April 2017) and said that ISPs should be treated like free search engines and social media platforms that are governed by the Federal Trade Commission’s less stringent after-the-fact enforcement mechanisms. Its a long, complicated story, but the bottom line is that your internet service provider is not only making money off of the fees it charges you, but also by collecting your private information and selling it on the open market. Not. That. Cool. ISPs – 1. Consumers – 0.
What to do?
Pay for a Good Virtual Private Network (VPN)
If you are really concerned about protecting your privacy, semi-tech-savvy, and have money to spend, a reputable VPN service is probably your best route. This is not a substitute for your ISP provider, it is an add-on that encrypts your information from even your ISP and makes it difficult for anyone to collect data on your digital activities. The trick, however, is that you need to ensure that any VPN you are using (especially if it is a free service) isn’t also in the business of selling your browser information. If you are considering this option, check out Wired’s article If You Want a VPN to Protect Your Privacy, Start Here.
Look for Your ISP to Offer Add-On Opt-Out Options
If your ISP is smart, they will offer to sell your privacy back to you for an extra charge. Crazy right? Some ISPs are already piloting this idea. Look for more to do the same. Why not make as much money off of you, the marketing agencies, etc., as they can? Once all the dust settles, it may be a good time to shop around for different ISPs, if you have the option, and go with the one that provides the lowest combined service and opt-out prices.
Let Your Voice Be Heard
Why are our elected officials more concerned with ensuring that private companies can reap the biggest profits than they are with protecting the privacy of their own individual constituents? Because lobbying money on behalf of corporate interests often speak louder than our individual voices. Don’t let that happen. Contact you local representative and senators and let them know that you expect them to act in your best interest when it comes to protecting digital privacy. After all, they work for you.
For a deeper dive into this privacy issue, check out NPR’s As Congress Repeals Internet Privacy Rules, Putting Your Options In Perspective and Huffington Post’s Even Trump Voters Hate This Bill He Just Signed.
Be careful out there, it’s a jungle, and corporate greed is winning.