Your Personal Data Will Be Sold

(assuming it isn’t being sold already)

Last week the House of Representatives passed a bill that makes it possible for your Internet Service Provider (ISP) to save your Internet usage history and sell it or mine it for data to use for advertisements. By the time you read this, the President may have already signed it into law.

There are a few aspects to this bill and the debate surrounding it that I find deeply upsetting. (To put it politely.)

First, to quote the story above: “which also prevents the FCC from ever putting such a rule in place ever again.”

This bill is, more than anything else, a finger in the eye of the previous administration and its FCC. Obama’s FCC, which was run by a former cable lobbyist, made significant if maddeningly slow progress in bringing the U.S. in line with the rest of the world when it comes to the Internet (and television) access.

We pay too much, and we have too few choices, especially for a country that claims to be a bastion of consumer choice, freedom, and open markets.

One of the FCC rules, which was supposed to go into effect this coming December, was that our ISPs could not sell or mine our data without giving us a chance to opt out.

Note: without a chance to opt out. The rule didn’t forbid collecting the data; it merely required them to ask first.

This bill not only removes the opt-out requirement, but it also makes sure it can never be added again without a whole new law.

Because we know how much True Conservatives* like new laws.

Second, a recurring argument in the debate was that this bill “puts service providers on the same footing” as Google and Facebook and “makes the advertising market more fair.”

This assertion is complete bullshit.

When it comes Google, or Facebook, or any other Internet website/search engine/social media provider, you have a choice. You can not use them. I, for example, rarely use Google and am currently not using Facebook. (More about that in a later post.)

Moreover, when you do use one of those services, the exchange of data for services is clear: when you search on Google, they remember the search and how you used it. In return you get the best search engine there is right now.

On Facebook, you can share and find things. In return, Facebooks knows what you shared and what you found.

Of course, some people (like me) don’t necessarily like these arrangements, but they are clear and visible transactions. Information in return for service.

But in the case of ISPs, you have no choice. If you are lucky like I am, you might have a choice between two ISPs, but you can’t choose one that won’t snoop.

You also cannot choose what you share with them. If you use the Internet, they see it. Think about that. Every website you visit. Everything you watch.

This, by the way, is why Google wants you to use Chrome and log into it. If you do and save your favorite sites and browser history, maybe so you can access it on another device, they can see it. But why they want you to do it (and why I won’t) is evident, there are advantages for you as a user, and you have a choice.

There is no advantage to you at all if your ISP snoops and you and sells the information. None. Zero.

If you believe, as some politicians will tell you, that they will lower the price of your service in return, you have not been watching them for the past 15 years.

And, of course, you are already paying your ISP. A lot. Too much by any reasonable measure. Why should the government hand them another way to make money off of you?

Well, come to think of it, there is an advantage for the government; if the ISPs have the data, it can be subpoenaed.

It could even be sold to the government without a subpoena if they shuffle the paperwork correctly. (Think that’s far fetched? You must have not being paying attention a few years ago.)

My advice is the same as ProtonMail’s, right here. Use a VPN. Protonmail should be making theirs public soon. If you don’t want to wait, this review of VPNs is excellent, if a little verbose.

You might not think you have anything to hide, but apparently the U.S. government (even if you don’t live here) and your ISP do.

 

*Now extinct, BTW

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Brooks

2 Replies to “Your Personal Data Will Be Sold”

  1. Hey I was going to email you to get your advice about VPNs after that law was passed last week. Of course the minute I heard about the law, I recalled our precious conversation on the subject. I will email you. -Leigh

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