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Internet privacy gone

Congress allows service providers to sell user data

Binqi Chen, Editorials Editor

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Over 85 percent of the American population uses the internet to stay connected, obtain news and shop. The constant usage of the internet naturally leads to a wide range of consumer information being uploaded and shared.

For many Americans, having government protection of their personal data seems obvious, but this soon may be impossible.

Congress recently voted to dismantle historic online privacy regulations created by the Federal Communications Commissions, which aimed to protect consumers against their internet providers from selling their behavioral data to different companies.

Now, the country’s biggest internet providers including: AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, could gather, without permission, their consumers’ movements online in order to build a lucrative business of trade with advertisement companies.

This sharing of information would all happen while the manipulated personal user has no idea that their private information is being shared.

Some of the data that is in danger of being shared include: internet history, mobile location data, app usage, content of emails and messages, and health and financial information. Social security numbers could also be obtained.

Through this series of rules created only in October of last year, the FCC had hoped to regulate internet providers the same way that they have treated telephone companies-prohibiting them from the unauthorized use or sale of call data.

The new rules would require internet providers to notify consumers of what data providers are collecting from them and the reason behind the collection. Service providers would also have to  take steps to inform their customers of data breaches.

These steps are monumental in ensuring that large companies do not abuse their power and also to protect the privacy of millions of Americans.

The rollback of these rules only sets the country back. This particular issue has also become more politicized within the two major parties in government.

But how exactly do service providers obtain access to people’s information?

Most major service providers are considered broadband, which gives customers their connection to the internet through an IP address that is unique to every individual device.

IP addresses are identifiers for the device and internet companies have the ability to know which IP addresses exist and are being used through every individual’s accounts.

Normally, citizens only have the option between a few broadband companies that are in their residing area.

When a customer surf the web, the service provider guides the device that is being used to different websites. This essentially leaves behind a footprint of internet traffic for the service provider and they have the choice to keep this browsing information or not.

The retainment of browsing information often leads to the ads that pop up on the side of your computer screen which just so happen to be the exact same item you were just looking to buy online. It is no coincidence, but a part of the larger picture of how service providers are taking advantage of their customers without their consent.

It is disappointing to see that progress for the safety of users has once again been delayed. These protections have been stopped before they can even be enforced. However there are still ways to protect your personal browsing data, albeit not foolproof.

Two popular options are the use of a virtual private network (VPN) or Tor. A VPN secures browsing information from internet service providers, it also makes it seem as if consumers are accessing the net from a different location.

However, VPN providers can share data with larger service providers, so it is important to choose a VPN that has strict privacy agreements.

Tor helps people cover their user identifications online and their locations as well. The system encrypts user data and bounces information between servers, making it difficult to pinpoint where the request for access came from.

The main argument for stopping these new protections is that Internet providers would have a disadvantage against companies such as Google and Facebook that already make billions by selling user data to advertisers.

This argument should not be valid because the privacy of citizens should always come before large companies making money.

This proposal from Congress is set to hit the President’s desk, and he is expected to sign it into law. The rollback of these specific regulations has caused concerns over other internet concerns and consumer privileges including net neutrality.

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The Online Edition of the Annandale High School Newspaper.
Internet privacy gone