A US House committee is set to vote on whether to kill privacy rules that would prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from selling users’ web browsing histories and app usage histories to advertisers. Planned protections, proposed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would have forced ISPs to get people’s consent before hawking their data – are now at risk. Here’s why it matters.
Your web browsing patterns contain a treasure trove of data, including your health concerns, shopping habits and visits to porn sites. ISPs can find out where you bank, your political views and sexual orientation simply based on the websites you visit. The fact that you’re looking at a website at all can also reveal when you’re at home and when you’re not.
If you ask the ISPs, it’s about showing the user more relevant advertising. They argue that web browsing history and app usage should not count as “sensitive” information.
Not all ISPs want to abolish the privacy protections. A list of several smaller providers – including Monkeybrains.net, Cruzio Internet and Credo Mobile – have written to representatives to oppose the decision. “One of the cornerstones of our businesses is respecting the privacy of our customers,” they said.
How does this differ from the way Google and Facebook use our data?
It’s much harder to prevent ISPs from tracking your data. You can choose not to use Facebook or Google’s search engine, and there are lots of tools you can use to block their tracking on other parts of the web, for example EFF’s Privacy Badger.
Consumers are generally much more limited for choice of ISP, in some cases only having one option in a given geographical area. This means they can’t choose one of the ISPs pledging to protect user data.