As of last October, it seemed you wouldn't have to look over your shoulder to log on to the internet. But that's just changed, thanks to congressional Republicans. On Tuesday, they voted to roll back regulations put in place by the FCC that would have protected internet service providers (ISPs) from selling your personal browsing history and other data to marketers and advertisers. In other words, sayonara, internet privacy. But what can ISPs see if the Internet privacy ruling is repealed? There's a long list of personal details that are no longer safe from prying eyes.
To be clear, these rollbacks are now official. The implementation of the rules was first just delayed by new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, pending their review. His delay then became a rejection Tuesday when the House voted to reject them 215 to 205. The Senate had passed the same resolution last Thursday in a party-line vote (Republicans are the ones trying to put corporations in the driver seat of your information). So what is that information that would have been protected but no longer is?
The rules put forth by the FCC and adopted just before President Donald Trump won the election would limit "sensitive" information that ISPs can share with marketers and advertisers. According to C-NET, that includes "browsing history, mobile location data, TV viewing history, call and text message records, and information about what mobile apps you use." That seems like everything you'd want kept private, and it could easily show marketers health and financial information.
That's not the worst of it. The FCC can never establish rules over this again. Congress has just taken away their legal ability to do so. As former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler pointed out, this means that the same privacy protections that for decades have been applied to telephone calls can never be applied to the Internet without an act of Congress. We all know how well Congress is at getting things done, so that means perhaps never.
So what can users do if they want to protect their data from being collected by their ISPs? https://t.co/dy4sHa5ZkI— NPR (@NPR) March 28, 2017
So what are you to do? One option would be to funnel all your personal information through a VPN. That would hide it from your ISP, but it also lends itself to problems like hacking and spying (because all the information goes one place where it's easy to watch). It's not perfect, but it could help. NPR also interviewed an expert who pointed to opting out of targeted ads as a sensible first step.
One final way to save the day would be a massive outrage to reach the halls of the Capitol.
Thus far senators and representatives seem more interested in protecting big corporations than addressing a very real concern. So if you don't like this change, make sure you let Congress know. They represent you.