The Issue: How Your ISP Can Use your Personal Information
The United States Senate has voted to repeal a set of regulations that limit the way that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) uses your information.
It sounds pretty scary, so let’s look at what this really means:
What’s Going On?
On October 27, 2016, the FCC adopted a policy that requires your ISP to get permission before using or selling the sensitive data they collect. The FCC specifically mentions “categories of information that are considered sensitive, which include precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history and the content of communications.” It’s all pretty important stuff, so the FCC wants customers to “opt-in” before your ISP uses it.
It’s unlikely that your ISP wants this information to spy on you. However, it is likely that they want to sell it to advertisers. In the hands of the advertisers, your information is providing a way to target precise demographics, which leads to a lot of big marketing contracts. With the FCC regulations, you have to consent before this happens.
Your ISP can still use certain information without consent, even under the FCC regulations. This is data that the FCC considers “non-sensitive.” This includes things like your email address and your internet speed.
The ability of your ISP to share your data with their partners is concerning. In this digital age, a lot of our sensitive information is stored online. The idea that someone can take that information without your knowledge and spread it around is disconcerting. Overall, the new regulations allow internet users to have greater control over who gets access to their stuff.
Some people think that the FCC is going a bit too far, and they’re trying to get rid of those rules.
On March 7, 2017, Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) introduced S.J. Res. 34, a joint resolution which looks to repeal the FCC regulations accepted in October. This removes the need for a customer “opt-in” before using or selling that sensitive information we talked about earlier.
That joint resoluton passed in the Senate via a 50-48 vote (50 Republicans and 48 Democrats) on March 23.
This is popular with companies like the NCTA (The Internet and Television Association), but it seems that the general public is less than excited about the repeal. After all, the resolution makes your personal data much easier to mine.
So, here’s the big question:
What does this mean for you?
At this moment, this doesn’t mean much at all for you.
The resoluton still needs to go to the House of Representatives for a vote.
It’s worth noting, though, that House Republicans outnumber House Democrats. This is important because all of the Senators who voted to repeal the regulations were Republicans, and all those who opposed were Democrats. This suggests that the resolution will pass in the House as well.
So, while there won’t be an impact right now, it’s very likely that these regulations will be completely thrown out relatively soon.
That means that your ISP will be able to mine your data for incredibly personal information without you ever knowing about it. You’ll no longer be able to control whether or not advertisers get their hands on all of your sensitive information – yikes.
Since the resolution still needs to make it through another vote, you can contact your local representative if you’d like and are able. However, the odds of this turning around are not looking good.
You’re probably wondering what you can do to protect your precious information. Here are a few tips:
- Call your ISP and ask them what information they keep and how long they keep it.
- Make sure to use “https” when it is available.
- Use Tor to browse the internet.
- Use a reputable and trustworthy VPN service and learn what logs they keep.
There’s nothing you can do to truly wipe yourself off the grid or hide every bit of your activity from your ISP, but the above steps will definitely help if/when S.J. Res. 34 becomes law.
It does not appear that a date has been set for the resolution’s vote in the House of Representatives.
In the meantime, take steps to make sure you’re doing what you can to protect your privacy online. You’ll be glad that you did.