Who Is Watching When You Use the Internet?

Category: Privacy

Is it Facebook, Google, Microsoft, the NSA, or that sketchy guy always parked in front of your house? Perhaps, but would you be surprised to learn that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) can see almost EVERYTHING you and your family do online? And that they can legally compile and sell that valuable information to marketers? New rules have been proposed to regulate how ISPs can use customers’ data for marketing and advertising purposes. If you think that's a darned good idea, read on…

WIll There Be New ISP Privacy Rules?

This year, over a dozen states have introduced legislation limiting what internet service providers can do with the data they collect while you surf the Web.

The proposed rules would give customers more control over how ISPs may use data they collect about customers’ unencrypted online activity; that includes things like devices you connect to the Internet, the websites you visit, when you go online and how long you remain, the software you use, and more. Your ISP has access to everything about your Internet traffic that isn’t encrypted, enabling it to build a highly detailed dossier on you and your household that is very valuable to marketers.

The rules, which vary by state, would require ISPs to get your permission before sharing or reselling your data to third parties. Affiliated business units of an ISP would have access to your data for marketing purposes unless you opt out of sharing it. Your ISP would not require your permission to use your data for the purpose of providing services you have ordered.

Is Your ISP Watching You?

These rules are, essentially, the same as the ones that govern how telephone companies can use your data. That makes sense since the FCC has ruled that ISPs, like telcos, are common carriers under Part II of the Telecommunications Act of 1936.

ISPs would also be required to clearly and prominently disclose what data they collect on customers’ Internet activity and how it is used. Furthermore, ISPs would have to take “reasonable steps” to secure customer data against unauthorized disclosure or use.

The Empire Strikes Back

The FCC proposed rules in 2016 to limit data collection by ISPs, but they never went into effect. Telecommunications lobbying groups successfully made the case that limiting the data marketing practices of ISPs, but not the giant corporations that run the world’s most popular websites would not be fair.

In the years since, many states have introduced their own legislation to address the issue, but for the most part, they have failed or are still pending a vote. Only three states, Maine, Nevada, and Minnesota have passed laws that prohibit internet service providers from disclosing personally identifying information, unless they get permission from subscribers. The National Conference of State Legislatures website has an updated list of all the pending state legislative efforts to clamp down on Internet Service Providers.

The ISP industry will continue to lobby against these “burdensome and unnecessary” rules. Prices will go up, they say, and customers won’t get anything more for their money. Verizon claims they do not sell customers’ personal web browsing data, but they do admit to advertising programs that use “de-identified” customer browsing data, and sell “aggregate insights” to third parties. Some privacy advocates claim that even with this anonymized data, it’s still possible to personally identify consumers.

It’s true that even if these proposed rules were implemented, the websites you visit would still be able to collect your browsing data. But the scope of data available to individual websites is small when compared to ISPs that can see everything you do online. These baseline privacy rules would provide much-needed safeguards that won’t cost a lot to implement. They make sense and they should be enacted.

I encourage you to contact your state legislators and ask that they make consumer privacy a priority, and pass new laws to limit the ability of ISPs to sell your digital soul to the highest bidder.

What's your opinion? Should ISPs be forced to disclose what data they are collecting? Or are you one of those who say "Who cares? I have nothing to hide." Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below…

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Most recent comments on "Who Is Watching When You Use the Internet?"

Posted by:

27 Oct 2020

This is why everyone should have a VPN program ! And the VPN firm should be based OUTSIDE these so called "5 Eyes" and "14 Eyes" countries ! Virgin Islands for instance, is a acceptable country...there are others ! Avoid all "5 Eyes" and "14 Eyes" countries !

Posted by:

27 Oct 2020

The quicker, the better, that the Big Tech corporations are broken up and made utility companies that can be regulated. I don't trust any of those individuals who run Big Tech. They censor everyone who doesn't agree with their propaganda, and have destroyed free speech. In my opinion, they are anti-American, anti-Constitutional, anti-freedom tyrants! Their goal is to transform Americans into groveling serfs with no rights.

Posted by:

Renaud Olgiati
27 Oct 2020

Thank $DEITY that in Europe we have some protection thanks to the EU "General Data Protection Regulation"...

Posted by:

27 Oct 2020

Use the TOR browser for anything important.

Posted by:

27 Oct 2020

GDPR is no "get out of jail free" card. Neither is CCPA. Relying on others (especially 'government') for your personal privacy is like expecting someone else to assist you with TP. The vigilance starts with peeps like @Wolfie.

Posted by:

Glen Cowgill
27 Oct 2020

ISP's? Google collects as much if not more data plus they control your photos and much more.

Posted by:

Brian B
27 Oct 2020

It doesn't matter how many eyes they've got, they won't get any information from a VPN because the VPN doesn't keep any information, and they don't know who's sending it anyway.

Posted by:

James McGrath
27 Oct 2020

Well in a few weeks we won't be worried about the election (unless were in Martial Law) and can concentrate on privacy again. Meanwhile, write or email your Congres critters and insist they pass legislation that the internet is just another common carrier like telcos and under Part II of the Telecommunications Act of 1936. Then they can be regulated.

Posted by:

28 Oct 2020

I browse lots of guitar-related sites. Recently a house-guest, connecting via my router, commented that he was suddenly getting guitar-related ads...

I now use a Swiss-based VPN service (Proton) only disconnecting for a couple of specifics that require a local IP-number.

Startpage means Google don't know me, and I don't need social media...

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr.
28 Oct 2020

I am not overly worried about privacy but I still do not like the ides that my ISP can collect all my activity data and sell it. I agree that ISPs are common carriers and should be regulates the same as Telephone companies, etc

As James McGrath (above) says "Meanwhile, write or email your Congres critters and insist they pass legislation that the internet is just another common carrier like telcos and under Part II of the Telecommunications Act of 1936" so they can then be regulated.


Posted by:

jim howell
28 Oct 2020

I agree Isp. are run by the phone co. The big companys should be reg. the same way. Just my two cents worth. Jim

Posted by:

29 Oct 2020

I just want my fair share of the money being made from the information collected. SHOW ME THE MONEY


Posted by:

Dave H
29 Oct 2020

Besides the use of a reputable VPN provider, change the DNS settings in your router to something other than your ISP’s. A quick search will provide good ones to use and also how to change the settings.

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