Your internet privacy may not have always been completely private; however, considering the recent vote from Senate it may become a virtual free for all – the ‘all’ being the big companies that want your browsing history and habits, that is. This is so because the House vote may go the same way, seeing as the proposal is going through the process at lightning speed, and the Congressional Review Act allows rules made by a prior administration to be rescinded. Thus, the proposal for internet privacy from the Obama era may become a distant memory. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) is hopeful that the Republican vote in the House will reverse this fear.
Internet habits are a goldmine of information for virtually all companies and organizations, and the websites we visit and browse are a useful tool for advertisers, service providers, and all consumer related companies. If, however the rule advocating for internet privacy is upheld, your internet service provider (ISP) will not be able to track your habits and the websites you browse, and will need to obtain your permission before doing so. As one can imagine though, this is something that all the major businesses – tax paying businesses that bring in billions in taxes to the government – will not be happy about, and this is what makes this game so complicated.
With all that being said, your internet privacy never was that safe to begin with, and it probably never really will be. As things stand now there are no real privacy rules in place for ISP’s to track your sites. You can try to protect yourself by keeping a look out for “Opt-Out” choices, whereby you control whether your ISP may share and sell your data or not. This is not steadfastly black and white, be warned. The grey areas are there and it’s up to you to color it perfect, if you can. These co-called grey areas include what the giant ISP’s lobby for and against. The nature of the content is quite a big issue and seems to be a determinative. Companies cannot have access to your more “explicitly” private content like your financial information. “Softer” information, like some websites you visit, is by contrast allowed to be invaded. However, this is relative, and the consumer may see any privacy invasion as explicit. This is where the lobbying from the big companies comes in. The FCC counters this by defining sensitive information broadly, but it still does not solve the problem of competing interests: the consumers on the one hand, the big business interests on the other. The FCC has been criticized for setting inconsistent rules and regulations whereby there are no strict definitions and all the stakeholders involved are not satisfied, furthering the complications.
So, what can you do amongst the unsurely and virtual chaos? Again, look out for the opt out options, but remember this is not fool proof either. Also make us of a VPN – Virtual Private Network. These route all your traffic through to their service. Remember however that some VPN’s aren’t genuine either and may turn around to stab you in the back (I’m feeling dramatic). The best solution is to have the law on our side, so let’s hope the House makes us smile.