Your ISP now owns your information.

29 March 2017 by Steve Blum
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Congress opened your kimono.

Privacy rules for Internet service providers are heading straight from limbo into oblivion. Last year, the Federal Communications Commission adopted rules that put strict limits on what ISPs can do with the data that customers transmit on their networks, significantly stricter than the restrictions on what most online businesses can do with consumer data.

Earlier this month, a much different FCC voted to put those rules on hold. Now, the U.S. congress has voted to scrap the rules altogether. In a party line vote, the house of representatives concurred with a U.S. senate resolution, and sent it on the president. In a blog post, the Washington Post’s Brian Fung summarises what it means for consumers…

If Trump signs the legislation as expected, providers will be able to monitor their customers’ behavior online and, without their permission, use their personal and financial information to sell highly targeted ads — making them rivals to Google and Facebook in the $83 billion online advertising market.

The providers could also sell their users’ information directly to marketers, financial firms and other companies that mine personal data — all of whom could use the data without consumers’ consent. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission, which initially drafted the protections, will be forbidden from issuing similar rules in the future.

FCC chair Ajit Pai praised the action while, ironically, criticising last year’s decision for being done on a party line vote. He characterised it as benefitting “one group of favored companies over another group of disfavored companies”. The rationale is that ISPs should live by the same privacy rules set by the Federal Trade Commission as do web companies, like Apple, Amazon or Google.

What that argument ignores is that consumers have a choice as to whether or not they do business with those companies, which compete against each other and against a long list of challengers. The broadband access industry, though, runs largely on a monopoly/duopoly model, and you don’t have a choice as to what information you do and do not give to your ISP. It sees everything you do and, shortly, will own your information.