Internet service providers can now sell your Internet browsing data to the highest bidder, after the US House of Representatives voted to relax the laws protecting individuals’ online privacy.
The Federal Communications Commission had repeatedly said it would change many of the regulations put in place by the previous administration of President Barack Obama.
One of the headline-grabbing issues is net neutrality, which is the principle of trying to ensure that ISPs do not favour one company’s data over an another.
Net neutrality theoretically ensured, for example, that the website of a small company had the same chance of being visited and viewed as the website of larger, more well-funded company.
But while most observers were aware that President Donald Trump and the FCC were going to at least modify net neutrality rules, many may not have expected this new decision to allow ISPs to sell your browsing history.
Under the new regime, companies which provide you with Internet access – such as AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and so on – will be free to sell everything they have about your online activity without requiring your specific permission.
By simply signing up to their service, you will essentially be saying that they are allowed to see everything you do online – legally.
Most people may know that cookies – small bits of software downloaded to your computer when you visit websites – enable commercial companies such as Google to gather information about the type of advertising which would be most relevant to you.
And this may well be the limit of the new rules.
But even so, according to The Register, a previous attempt to make gathering such personal information illegal resulted in the discovery of how much the data is worth.
Apparently, it’s worth $30 per household per month, a figure which rises to $60 per household per month when the household gets Internet access through cable services because those ISPs can combined Internet browsing data with television viewing data.
The Register calculates that, on the basis of 100 million households being online in the US, cable companies could be in line to earn between $35 billion and $70 billion a year as a result of the politicians’ vote.
It might be possible to opt out, but that is likely to cost you extra money, and there’s no guarantee they won’t use your personal data anyway.
Other tips for trying to avoid having your browsing data being logged easily include:
- using different browsers for different types of activity;
- using a variety of search engines;
- using a virtual private network;
- logging out and using anonymous browsing, such as Incognito; and
- visiting https sites.
Additionally, it’s perhaps worth noting that some smaller ISPs have pledged not to collect users’ browser data.
And the larger ISPs have also said that they may provide an “opt-in” option, which would mean that data would only be collected if users specifically opt in and allow it.
It’s a serious issue, of course, since in theory, any company or individual which has access to your browsing data could potentially find out all your banking details and so on.
And, as The Guardian suggests, with all the stories about user data having been hacked from a variety of companies large and small, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that online theft of actual money rather than just personal information will be a big issue going forward.ISPs can now put your browsing data up for sale to the highest bidder Click To Tweet