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Your Browsing History Is Now For Sale

By:Christine Fettinger

Both the House and Senate have voted to eliminate ISP privacy rules, and the resolution was signed by President Trump on Monday, April 4th. This resolution means that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) won’t have to seek customer approval before sharing your browsing history and other private information with advertisers.

The information ISPs can gain from browsing history is vast. Before the Senate’s vote, Democrats warned that ISPs could ‘draw a map’ of where families shop and go to school. By looking at when you log on to the Internet to check Facebook or the weather, ISPs can figure out when you wake up each day. ISPs may even be able to glean health information since many people look up symptoms online. Looking at what websites you visit and for how long can reveal a lot about a person, not just hobbies and interests, but sexual orientation and political views.

The previous FCC rules, which would have started taking effect December 4th, would have required ISPs to inform customers about how their data is used and get customer consent before selling the data. Since the Senate invoked the Congressional Review Act, not only will ISPs be able to sell your browsing history now that this resolution has passed, the FCC will be prevented from issuing similar privacy regulations in the future.

Those for repealing the privacy rules argued that it leveled the playing field with Google and Facebook for ISPs that want to get into the advertising business. While Google and Facebook can target advertising to specific customers, this is based on a limited portion of their Web browsing history and consumers can choose whether to use Facebook or Google. In contrast, ISPs can identify every domain customer visits and see all their activity if the website is unencrypted. Consumers also generally don’t have a large choice in which Internet provider to use. If the few ISPs available in your area all sell your browsing history to the highest bidder, you’ll have no choice but to choose one of them – or forego the Internet.

Browsing history can be protected from ISPs, but it makes browsing more complicated. You must encrypt all of your internet traffic through VPN services, Tor, or HTTPS. Turning on a Web browser’s incognito mode will not work as ISPs will still be able to see your internet activity.

“The acronym ‘ISP’ should now stand for ‘Information Sold For Profit’ and ‘Invading Subscriber Privacy,'” said Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass). It goes without saying that this new development will not sit well with consumers.