ISPs make a play for control of data privacy
Forget Facebook, forget Google, forget Amazon – privacy defenders they most certainly are not, but their transgressions may prove to be nothing compared to the privacy threat currently posed by the leading US Internet Service Providers (ISPs).
At home, at work or even in a public place everyone wants their online activity to be private. It’s not necessarily that they have something to hide; it’s simply a basic human desire to keep their intimate thoughts and personal preferences shielded perfect strangers.
Yet, ISPs track and log almost everything we do online. Until recently, tough rules known as Net Neutrality prevented ISPs from using this private data for profit. But the recent repeal of Net Neutrality laws changes all that – effectively handing ISPs the chance to take full control over what they do with our data.
For anyone wanting to protect their privacy, a Virtual Private Network (VPN) may be the best way forward. VPNs encrypt communications traffic online helping to shield data privacy and preserve anonymity from prying eyes.
Death of Net Neutrality
America’s powerful telcos and cable companies have a stranglehold on the market. They have divided up the country between them, stifling competition, limiting broadband speeds in poorer areas while lobbying politicians and donating generously to political campaigns.
In their role as guardians of Internet access, ISPs have proven time and again that they cannot be trusted on matters of net neutrality, customer service, roll-out expansion, shock price rises or data privacy.
Consumers have by and large been protected from the worst excesses by Net Neutrality legislation which has forced ISPs to treat all data travelling over their networks equally.
However, in June 2018 the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) officially overturned Net Neutrality regulation giving rise to fears that, left unchecked, broadband providers will seize their chance to increase profits by charging platform providers like Google and Facebook a fee when users visit their website and by selling private customer data to advertisers.
As you might expect, America’s broadband providers are keen to portray themselves as principled and trustworthy.
They point to long-established, pro-consumer privacy practices in the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) framework as proof. They also call on policy makers to overhaul current regulation governing privacy and openness in favour of one centered on a set of shared privacy principles. It is claimed these principles will protect internet users and provide a level playing field for consumers and innovators alike. Interestingly, the model put forward by ISPs is one they themselves have drawn up. They also propose shifting responsibility for oversight of broadband providers from the FCC to the FTC.
The Gloves are Off
The net result is that America has become a battleground for control over data privacy. On one side are the ISPs who no longer require consumers’ explicit consent or “opt-in” to collect and sell their data. On the other are privacy advocates including, ironically, the platform providers who claim that the dominance of large broadband incumbents prevents true competition. They argue that a small, emerging ISP wanting to offer users strong privacy protection would simply be blocked and priced out of the market.
The gloves are off and there’s everything to play for.
Broadband providers are concerned privacy campaigners could yet succeed in reinstating Net Neutrality through the courts. But if they manage to get regulation for their industry moved to the FTC it would certainly make their lives easier. The FTC does not have the same rule-making powers as the FCC.
Meanwhile, Americans have lost the “opt-in” privacy control that the Net Neutrality ruling gave them. The concern is that ISPs will now put up all kinds of obstacles to prevent customers from opting out of terms and conditions that allow their data to be sold to third parties.
Protecting Privacy with Encryption Tools
In summary, the repeal of Net Neutrality regulation gives ISPs a lot more freedom to do what they like with our personal data.
Fortunately, it is possible to protect online privacy using professional VPN software.
A VPN encrypts your online connection. The IP address is masked to make it look like one owned by the VPN provider, making individual users much harder to identify. Outside observers, including ISPs, are not easily able to see the source, helping users to preserve their privacy and anonymity while online.