Who's Watching When You Surf the Web?

Category: Privacy

Is it 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? The FCC has proposed new rules to regulate how ISPs can use customers’ data for marketing and advertising purposes. If you think that's a darned good idea, read on...

FCC To Vote On ISP Privacy Rules

The full Commission is scheduled to vote on the proposal on March 31. If the Commission accepts Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal, a period of public comment will ensue before final rules are adopted.

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 Web sites 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 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.

"At a minimum," Wheeler wrote, "it would require broadband providers to adopt risk management practices; institute personnel training practices; adopt strong customer authentication requirements; to identify a senior manager responsible for data security; and take responsibility for use and protection of customer information when shared with third parties."

Will The Empire Strike Back?

We can expect the ISP industry to lobby against these “burdensome and unnecessary” rules. The mythical Mom-and-Pop broadband provider will be in dire jeopardy of going bankrupt if it must hire people and buy authentication gear to protect consumers’ privacy. Prices will go through the roof, they say, and customers won’t get anything more for their money.

But in reality, these baseline privacy rules will provide much-needed safeguards that won’t cost a lot to implement. They make sense and they should be enacted. I expect this proposal to be adopted by the full Commission on March 31, and shortly thereafter will come your opportunity to submit comments on the proposal to the FCC.

The last time I suggested submitting comments to the FCC, a number of readers encountered difficulties with the Commission’s online commenting system. That’s because I messed up and provided the link to the “Expert” page on the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System (ECFS). I apologize for that inadvertent cruelty.

The ECFS is a two-tiered system that enables simple comments of up to several paragraphs, or a complex filing of uploaded documents, images, and so on. I assume my readers just want to “post a comment” and be done. To do so, go to the “Informal Comments” page and click on the proceeding that you wish to comment upon. Note that this proceeding on ISP privacy rules won’t be listed until April. I'll ping you again when it's time for public comment.

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's Watching When You Surf the Web?"

Posted by:

25 Mar 2016

I do not appreciate being spied upon.
Bob, what, in your opinion, is the best way to encrypt everything coming and going please?

EDITOR'S NOTE: If you use an HTTPS connection when accessing a website, your comings and goings will be encrypted. See also, http://askbobrankin.com/free_tools_for_anonymous_web_browsing.html

Posted by:

25 Mar 2016

ISPs already charge customers for access. So in effect customers are paying to have their privacy sold. How can I get a business where I can get people to pay me to invade their lives.

Posted by:

25 Mar 2016

I am concerned about your comment "devices you connect to the Internet".

Does this mean that TiVo and Smart TV usage will be sold to advertisers?

What about smart appliances, and even more so smart locks and home temperature control which would reveal way too much information about a household's activity. Is that to be sold also?

That would concern me most.

Posted by:

25 Mar 2016

Lucy, if there's a buyer, they'll sell it.

Posted by:

25 Mar 2016

I love PRIVAZER----Thank you

Posted by:

John Silberman
25 Mar 2016

All the more reasons to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). Although the free VPNs may be throttled somewhat, there are some very good ones that do not cost very much.

Posted by:

25 Mar 2016

Yes, they should be forced to disclose what data they are colecting from us. We need our privacy and no need of spy and third party and robot calls bothering.

Posted by:

25 Mar 2016

I value my privacy so much so that I forego commenting on most everything that smacks of not being factual. Like Buffet, what/how does one encypt one's system when visiting websites?

Also, glad to see a corrected link for comments re: FCC. I will be on this come April 1st. Jeez, Bob, that's April Fool's Day....so maybe I will wait until the next day(:-)

Posted by:

Bob Price
25 Mar 2016

Do VPN's on a modem/hard wired Internet prevent peeking on me? I've heard yes, and no, but never a clear answer.

Posted by:

25 Mar 2016

I worked for an ISP for 8 years. It is very true what Bob said about them.

Posted by:

25 Mar 2016

I applaud, of course. This is long past-due.

Posted by:

Phil Reed
25 Mar 2016

Bob, I use Avast SafeZone Browser now. Just purchased it for a year subscription. Will it do the job of keeping every Website I visit from the ISP snooping, or is it a waste of my money?

Posted by:

26 Mar 2016

Like the guy watching his mother-in-law drive his new BMW over a cliff, I'm of two minds how I'll respond should our Canadian FCC analogue (CRTC) tries this. I've had an indie ISP since Windows 3.1 and Netscape got me on the 'net. Small? If there is a problem, the owner himself answers the phone and deals with it - well. And I think I can consider him trustworthy. I hate the thought of anything that might encumber his operation to our detriment.
I also actively support openmedia.ca in their battles for consumer-friendly private internet.
This could be a tough choice.

Posted by:

Al Jankowski
26 Mar 2016

If your indie ISP is not providing your personal info to anyone then he needn't do anything.

Posted by:

26 Mar 2016

It's about time!!! I know that DirecTV uses the data of the programs I see routinely, to sell to the advertisers.

Now, this easily could be a transponder issue, but, late at night, I see the start of a commercial & suddenly it changes to another start of a commercial. This action is done frequently. It is still a commercial, but, why change it? None of this makes sense to me, either. Unless, it is a transponder issue.

As far as my Internet roamings, I use UBlock Origin to block all ads (by the way, this is an excellent extension for a browser & it really works). So, I haven't a clue what the ads are, since, I don't see them.

The Smartphones on my WiFi service are probably giving the information of what & where all of us go & do, back to the WiFi.

It's all about money, money, money!!!

Posted by:

26 Mar 2016

OK, a VPN can protect you against the prying eyes of your ISP. However, by using a VPN, you put complete trust in your VPN provider. Why would you trust them? They could potentially analyze your traffic (including passwords) passing through the VPN. Or am I missing something here?

Posted by:

Joe C
26 Mar 2016

Well big brother here we go again. I have one answer for all of them. Stick it where the sun don't shine. Hooray for Apple.

Posted by:

27 Mar 2016

Whether I have some thing to hide or not I should be compensated every time someone makes money on my information. Maybe 50% - probably impossible to keep track of but a good idea.

Posted by:

28 Mar 2016

Thanks for the heads up, Bob. I am so tired of "targeted" ads; even though I use an ad blocker, some still wiggle through. But I do like the idea of encrypting my messages.
I assume you'll soon have some updates on encryption software?

BTW I do like Jim's idea. Gimme my 2 cents a pop!

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