Battle for Digital Privacy – ISP Regulation Rollback

Trump and Republican Congress roll back FCC privacy policy which once allowed customers to opt-in to allowing their ISP providers to sell their browser history.

April 10, 2017

By: Bobby Casey, Managing Director GWP

vpn isp privacyThe “private” sector got a little less private, with the passing a bill that repeals a recent FCC regulation requiring ISPs (Internet Service Providers) give an opt-in for information sharing and selling to third parties.

A free market is about choices. But in many cases there’s only one ISP per geographic location. So if you want to have internet, you have to use these guys. The thing is, if you’re going to have a monopoly then there should be choices within that monopoly. It’s one thing if I can choose between Charter, Time Warner and Bob’s ISPs – N – Things. That way, if Charter and Time want to be jerks, I can go to Bob’s who won’t sell my information.

Much like government, they hold a monopoly on essential services, and give you no means to opt out of the stuff you pay for but don’t want or need.

In October 2016, the FCC required ISPs to give their customers an opt-in consent before selling customers’ web browsing history or any other non-sensitive information to marketers. The Trump administration and the Republican lead congress rolled that back in March 2017.

A few things to consider from the other side of this issue:

  1. What was happening before October 2016? Because that’s essentially where we are now. We are basically taking a time machine back 5 months. How was your privacy then? Perhaps you do notice a difference.
  2. These rules never applied to edge providers like Google or Facebook. Granted, you have a choice whether to subscribe to or use Google or Facebook; a choice that is lacking when choosing an internet provider. Moreover, Google and Facebook’s reach spans only as far as they have access or ownership. Your ISP has access to ALL your activity. So the question remains: since the rules were not comprehensive in covering everyone, did those regulations really have any teeth to begin with?
  3. Were these regulations redundant to existing regulations offered up in Section 222 of Title 47 of the US Code – Privacy of Consumer Information? Give it a read, and you can decide. But this is a bit reminiscent of the unhinged frenzy the Republicans had when the Patriot Act was repealed. The truth was, the portion of the Patriot Act that expired was a series of redundancies. I get a little skeptical when I’m being told that the ONLY thing standing between me and total mayhem is a series of rules instituted by a shady government.
  4. Then there is a small matter of jurisdictional authority. This really does illustrate how bloated and convoluted our government is, but back in 2012 then POTUS Obama named the Federal Trade Commission the agency in charge of consumer online privacy rights, not the Federal Communications Commission. While the FCC seems a more natural appointment given their existing jurisdiction over general ISP practices, the privacy piece was given over to the FTC. At best this is a blunder that is biting us all in the ass today.

The above isn’t a defense of rolling back the few policies that actually offer some modicum of privacy protection. It’s more to offer some perspective. The issues of redundancy, inadequacy, and administrative malfeasance are a real obstacle to effective policies that could offer protections to private consumers.

Is the rollback bad? It’s not great. It was hardly comprehensive, but it was something to hold the ISP monopolies accountable. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has its fears of what could happen:

  1. Selling data about your location, demographics, and browsing history
  2. Hijacking your searches and redirecting your search to a partner site that paid for more traffic
  3. Inserting ads based on your search history
  4. Installing software that records all your URL search history
  5. Inserting tracking cookies in all your HTTP traffic

I can’t help but wonder if SEO based businesses were also somewhat timid about these regulations.

Do I want the ability to opt out of these things? Absolutely. Am I holding my breath for the government to get its act together? Absolutely not. The same government that has NO problem doing all of the above and more through the NSA doesn’t exactly have my confidence much less my endorsement.

Privacy is an issue. I want people to have it and protect it. And it’s become painfully clear that the government isn’t a reliable tool in achieving those ends. So what to do now?

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs)

VPNs enable you to operate in public virtual space with the functionality and security of a private network. That’s the cliff note explanation. Businesses often use them to connect various geographical operations into one network. Remote access plus security is a huge plus in world of global supply chains and telecommuting.

What can a VPN offer you as a counter measure against the potential if not existing intrusions of ISP and edge providers?

  1. Information security through encryption
  2. Safeguards to prevent unauthorized users from accessing the VPN
  3. Ability to detect tampering

We have partnered with Cyberghost, who offers a free VPN service as well as other premium options. If you like having military grade encryption, advanced server filters, automatic behaviors for wi-fi hotspots, and instant feedback regarding what you’ve been protected from it’s worth trying their free offer.

The free market has solutions. The government has bureaucracy. The choice is clear on who will do the better job in protecting your privacy. It’s absurd to think that people will avoid using the internet or smart phones. To say that people should live under rocks and avoid the digital world just to preserve their privacy is like saying people should never leave their homes so as not to be mugged. Free people are not prisoners of fear, rather they take precautions to keep themselves safe.

If you are interested in learning more about VPN services and how they can help protect you and your privacy, click here to visit Cyberghost, and try their free service. Live free and browse freely with privacy and anonymity.

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