What is this Internet Privacy legislation that everyone’s been discussing?
The House of Representatives passed legislation on Tuesday to remove new online privacy protections passed by Federal Communications Commision (FCC) that was set to be officially enacted in August 2017. The online privacy protections prohibited Internet providers (ISPs) from sharing sensitive information, such as browsing history, location data, app usage history, social security number and other information produced while using the internet without the knowledge and consent of the consumers. This was seen as a big win for privacy advocates who have been trying for years to convince the federal government the importance of stricter privacy laws in the age of Internet.
A large reason for the repealment stems from the perceived inequality between the regulations affecting the Federal Trade Commision (FTC) and the FCC. According to NPR, “The FTC’s privacy guidelines [applying to data collecting organizations like Facebook or Google] are less stringent than the ones passed by the FCC [applying to ISP’s] and they are implemented through investigations and enforcement, rather than pre-emptive regulations.” Furthermore, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai recently stated that, “My own core goal is to make sure that that uniform expectation of privacy … is vindicated through the use of regulatory framework that establishes a level playing field.”
So what does all of this mean?
In a recent article, The Washington Post explains the real-life impact of being able to purchase private data online. In short, the impact is entirely theoretical. According to privacy experts, because of the privacy policies that most internet service providers already have, this resolution will not suddenly allow them to sell your personal data. If internet service providers violate those privacy policies, they can be taken to court by state attorney generals as well as the FCC. In fact, they say that the most common way your data is going to be sold is already happening in the status quo. And guess what it’s all about? That’s right, marketing. Companies will work with websites that gather masses of data (think companies like Google or Yahoo!), and buy space to ensure that their ads will be seen by their target markets. However, your personal information never lands in the hands of those companies.
Echoing that sentiment, the Internet and Television Association’s official press release regarding the legislation passed in Congress was as follows:
“Today’s Congressional action to repeal the FCC’s misguided rules marks an important step toward restoring consumer privacy protections that apply consistently to all internet companies. With a proven record of safeguarding consumer privacy, internet providers will continue to work on innovative new products that follow ‘privacy-by-design’ principles and honor the FTC’s successful consumer protection framework. We look forward to working with policymakers to restore consistency and balance to online privacy protections.”
So it seems that the official stance of ISPs is that this legislation doesn’t really impact their day-to-day operations. However, this doesn’t mean that legally allowing this data to be sold is necessarily ethical or ideal.
Opponents of the decision are not keeping quiet. The Hill, a political journalism website and newspaper, notes that, “In order to stop treating ISPs differently the FCC is doubling down on treating one industry differently than another.” While the original reason for the repeal was to end the favored privacy treatment received by the FTC, it seems that after the repeal the FTC will now actually face more regulations compared to the FCC.
Let’s take a step back and look at the big picture impacts of this legislation, particularly their effect on marketing and you as an individual. In terms of marketing, the new legislation will now make it legal for internet service providers to observe consumer’s online behavior and utilize personal and financial information to start exposing online users to advertisements targeted specifically to them. For individual millennials, the impact is less clear. While some analysts say your data won’t be used much differently now than before, many consumers are (justifiably) concerned about this new legislation and their personal information. There are several easy steps that you can take to protect yourself. Many experts recommend using a virtual private network, or VPN for short. VPNs are known for their remarkable security of your data, especially when simply browsing the Internet. Also, don’t use the same passwords for all of your accounts. We know it’s hard to keep of all your accounts separate, but it is important to diversify your passwords. Lastly, use secure browsers and websites. The HTTPS version of a particular website is often much more safe than than the normal site, so use that whenever possible.
Interested in learning more? Here’s some suggested reading:
We’d love to hear your opinions on this topic. Do you think ISPs will decrease the strength of their personal privacy policies? Do you think ISPs being able to utilize personal data to target ads towards customers is a bad thing or a beneficial thing? Or have we missed a key point of contention altogether? Let us know below!