In an increasingly more connected and data-driven world, consumers have had distressingly little control over their personal data on the internet. Especially worrying is how much data passes through the hands of internet service providers (ISP’s) such as Time Warner Cable and Comcast. ISP’s have access to troves of information such as user location, browsing history, and even interactions with websites and web apps. Only a virtual private network (VPN) or an encrypted https connection can prevent possible snooping from ISP’s.
Enormous “big data” companies already trade terabytes of people’s browsing data without explicit consent. On almost any given site, hidden tracking scripts and cookies are loaded to users’ browsers, often without warning. Even these extensive tracking systems, however, have trouble building useful, comprehensive profiles for targeted advertising. Thus, internet service providers over the past several years have worked to fill the gap by building their own data collection methods. This is concerning because unlike with “big data” companies, ISP’s may have the leverage to force people into giving up more data than they are comfortable to share since there is so little competition in the broadband industry.
In response to increasing concern over consumer privacy, the FCC has ignored the broadband industry’s pleas for lack of privacy regulations and has voted on and passed a series of new regulations to give consumers more control over their data. Under this proposal, ISP’s are required to clearly notify users of data collection and provide the choice to opt-out. Additionally, the rules demand transparency on collected information and security breach notifications.
These consumer privacy rules, unfortunately, do not apply to “big data” corporations or government surveillance, a fact that is widely noted by critics of the proposal. Nevertheless, it is a promising first step.
The FCC’s proposal for new broadband privacy rules is currently open to public comment. More information can be found here.