Explained: ISPs, Your Data, and Internet Privacy

Recently, the US Congress has made moves enable widespread data collection from Internet users in the United States. Internet service providers (ISPs) see this as a big win. Why? How are they going to use your data? Here it is explained:

What’s an ISP?
Internet Service Providers or ISPs handle all of your network traffic– meaning they can see everything you browse, watch, click on, and more unless it’s encrypted. Even when it is encrypted, they can still see most of what you’re doing online.

ISPs are different from web companies like Google because you can use the internet without Google but you can’t use the internet without an ISP.

Who Regulates ISPs?
Last year while Barack Obama was in office, the Federal Communications Commission or FCC created major privacy rules for ISPs that gave consumers more control over what’s collected and how it’s used. The rules were slated to go into effect this year but now, those rules will never go into effect.

ISPs want to be regulated by the Federal Trade Commission or FTC instead of the FCC. That’s because they say that the FCC is stopping them from innovating. The FCC tends to write rules that govern the current marketplace while the FTC tends to provide broad guidelines that lay out what constitutes harm and deception of consumers.

What’s at Stake?
There are two things at stake here: our privacy and money from the growing online advertising industry. Currently, Google and Facebook are the largest sellers of digital advertising. ISPs want some of that money and they plan to make it selling your browsing data to advertisers and other companies. One thing they really want to do is help advertisers figure out who you are across all your devices like your computer, tablet, phone, and TV.

Innovation with your data could get weird. For example, ISPs could sell your data to HR technology firms who decide not to hire someone because they don’t like something in their browsing history or insurance providers could use purchased browsing data to deny coverage for someone because it looks like they’ve been on WebMD trying to self-diagnose a health issue.

Currently, ISPs are able to opt you into data collection schemes by default. However, opting out of these schemes can be difficult because ISPs don’t want you to do it.

Now you decide: by letting ISPs be collect and sell your data by default, does this support innovation or does it abuse consumers?
Answer in the poll now and leave your comment below.

Further reading on this issue:
• Google’s Terms of Use state that Gmail users: “give Google (and those [Google] work[s] with) a worldwide license to use … create derivative works (such as those resulting from translations, adaptations or other changes we make so that your content works better with our Services) … and distribute such content.” See http://bit.ly/2oemAJr.

• Here’s a transcript of Obama’s speech at the FTC on the internet and personal privacy

• This is a pro-privacy pressure group in Washington and this is a think tank that believes that personal data in the open is good for the economy

• Here’s a podcast episode about this issue from NPR

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Davis Jones

Davis Jones

Co-Owner & Head of Product at Eazl
Davis Jones is a communicator and content creator with 10 years of experience in content marketing and product management. He specializes in video course curriculum and pedagogy and is located in Chicago.
Davis Jones