What does the vote to allow internet service providers sell browsing data to marketers mean for the end users and what they can do about it?

31 March
31 March

First, let’s take a look at what has happened this week.

The U.S. Senate voted to roll back a regulation on internet privacy that was adopted by the Federal Communications Commission under the Obama administration back in 2016.

These rules gave people the option to decide how their personal data – such as web browsing history –  was used and shared by internet service providers (ISPs). People could choose whether they wanted to give the ISPs an affirmative consent to use and share sensitive information with advertisers and other third parties – or not.

President Trump is expected to sign this new resolution into effect. The decision to eliminate this rule means that consumers will no longer be in control of what’s going to happen to their personal browsing data. It will be up for sale to marketers and the like.

Now let’s see why you should be worried.
Your ISP – your window into your internet connection – is able to track whatever it is you do online. Every site you visit, every download you make. Having access to this data gives an enormous advantage to marketers – they’ll get to know your browsing habits intimately and will bombard you with advertising accordingly. Even your search results can be rewritten based on this, and instead of finding relevant information you are looking for, you’ll get redirected to sponsored websites.

What can you do?

You could start using a Virtual Private Network – a VPN – that encrypts your traffic, thus preventing your ISP from being able to get closely acquainted with your browsing patterns. However, what happens is that you pay the VPN for not keeping records of your activity – and yet the VPN itself would still have access to your browsing data just like the ISPs do. You would need to put your trust into your VPN and hope they will not, under any circumstances, monetize your data.

Before you decide whether you want to do it or not, you should really get to know your browsing history yourself. Being able to see what those that are spying on you are seeing will give you the overview of what kind of personal data you could be leaking to third parties. You could try the Vivaldi browser, which now has a built-in History functionality that allows you to analyze your browsing trends – without collecting or storing any of your personal data, which stays local to your computer. Getting to know your browsing history is an important step to take at this point, and by having access to this data, you can make a call on whether or not you want to adjust your online behavior.

Privacy matters

Personally, I would like to see much stricter laws in place to protect people’s privacy. Not the kind of regulations that make it an option to sell private data under special circumstances, the interpretation of which can vary greatly. Ideally, governments should be aiming to put stricter rules in place and not weaken the existing ones.

There is a clear link between the lack of strict privacy regulations and the ability to target people with tailored “fake news” and propaganda. The fact that it is so easy to

target people means that it’s possible to send out customized “fake news”.

Targeting people with monetized – or politically skewed – information would be a lot harder with stricter privacy laws. It is possible to fix two problems at the same time. Enhance privacy and reduce the ability to send customized content and advertising. I see that as a win – better privacy and better democracy.

The Internet we love is under attack, and defence is crucial. Start with boosting privacy.

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