Goodbye to privacy

Congress and Trump undermine protections for Internet users

Last fall, under the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission adopted new privacy rules regarding Internet service providers. Those rules required that ISPs get permission from customers before using or sharing certain private information—like location, financial details, Social Security numbers and browser history. Those rules were set to take effect at the end of this year.

But, like just about every policy enacted during Obama’s time in office, the FCC’s privacy rules have been given the ax—first by Congress, and finally, on Monday (April 3), by the stroke of Donald Trump’s now-infamous pen.

To be fair, the issue is convoluted, and therefore difficult for those not in the tech world to comprehend. We’ll attempt a Cliff’s Notes version.

Last fall’s FCC rules were created in the aftermath of an action taken in 2015 on behalf of net neutrality—which keeps ISPs from favoring Internet companies or websites (i.e., the highest bidders) with better bandwidth. That action put oversight of ISPs in the hands of the FCC, the argument being that they are telecommunications outfits. The unintended consequence, however, was that the Federal Trade Commission, which had until that point overseen privacy claims for both ISPs and Internet companies like Google or Amazon, no longer had jurisdiction over the former. Hence, the FCC’s new rules.

Fast-forward to earlier this week when Trump signed legislation axing those rules. The consequences are real. And they may require real reactions on the part of anybody wishing to maintain control over their online data. Many ISPs, including Comcast and Verizon, have pledged that their policies will not change. But since the FCC rules had not gone into effect yet anyway, that sounds to us like lip service. Those companies did say they would continue to allow customers to opt out of certain personal data collection. But we’re going to assume that we’ll all start to see more personally targeted advertising any day now. What’s more alarming is that this data, once collected, could be accessed by law enforcement or hackers.

So, take that crucial step and opt out. Whether you’re using Google (including Gmail) or Facebook or even Netflix, take an extra minute to view your privacy settings. You might be surprised at what you’ll find. Then opt out of anything you don’t feel comfortable with. And do it now.