Will you be cautious of what information you put on your apps due to the new “No Privacy” vote?
The public outcry in responses to Congress’s decision to repeal the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Internet privacy rules echoes a fear that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will now be able to share and sell individual user search histories (i.e. your secret man crush on Justin Beiber or your obsession with your ex’s Instagram feed).
So, how bad is it?
ISPs (such as Verizon and Comcast) are able to use your metadata as a tool to allow third parties to advertise to you. If a New York shoe company pays an ISP to display an ad, you may likely see it if you are a New Yorker who often Googles shoes. They won’t, however, receive a specified search history of an individual user.
Cards Against Humanity owner, Max Temkin, pledged to buy the search history of those in Congress who voted for the repeal. And though The Verve clearly lists out which ones and how much money they supposedly received from ISP lobbyists, Temkin may end up rather short changed absent of some seriously skilled hacking.
The truth is, anyone who has ever placed ads on Google or Facebook have paid these companies for this metadata, including you when you used Adwords to advertise your Etsy store.
WNYC points out that, like Google, ISPs have always been allowed to collect and sell user data, and until the FCC defined broadband Internet as a utility in February 2015, there hadn’t been regulation barring it. One of the regulations ushered in with this new definition of broadband (which would not take effect until October 2017) was that ISPs would have to obtain specific permission before sharing a user’s search history outside of the Terms of Service—in other words a user would have to opt-in to having their data up for sale rather than opt-out as it is with Google.
Though Congress voted to repeal the need for opting in, they did not repeal the requirement for ISPs to provide an opt-out option. So you don’t have to participate in having your metadata sold for targeted advertisements. ISPs must also clarify to customers which types of information they collect, how, and with which types of entities.
This doesn’t actually seem so bad. Why is everyone freaking out?
Here are two concerns begging for more conversation.
1. Google openly sells user metadata. In return Google grants user a wide selection of free services and cutting edge information technology. ISPs, however, will profit from the product of its user search history, while still collecting the user’s monthly fees.
2. Here’s another interesting point brought up by Rep. Anna Eshoo of California. Though Google has a hold on the search engine market, users are completely free to use another search service if they dislike Google’s policies. This is not the case for many when it comes to service providers, especially those in rural areas where ISPs often hold geographical monopolies. So if an ISP misuse user metadata, a customer would not be able to take their business elsewhere.
In light of all the noise, an app dubbed Noiszy has surfaced in the Chrome web store that promises to muddy user browser history by visiting random sites. But again, one can always opt out. Popular Mechanics outlines how one can continue to protect online privacy regardless of the vote.