ISPs can now collect and sell your data: What to know about Internet privacy

ISPs can now collect and sell your data: What to know about Internet privacy

President Donald Trump signed a bill Monday allowing Internet service providers to collect and sell information about your online habits without consent.

Here's what you need to know about the rules and broadband privacy:


Are there any remaining rules governing consumer broadband privacy?

Yes. The FCC retains the authority to take action should an ISP commit unjust or unreasonable business practices. The Federal Trade Commission can also take action when companies act unfairly and deceptively.

But there is some question of the FTC's authority because a recent federal court ruling found the agency had no jurisdiction over broadband companies -- in this case wireless provider AT&T -- because the 2015 net neutrality rules gave that authority to the FCC.

Democrats and privacy advocates note that the new FCC rules set expectations of ISP conduct, while these remaining provisions involve after-the-fact enforcement.

ISPs, including mobile broadband providers, do have their voluntary privacy policies. "Companies have a financial incentive to handle your personal data properly because to do otherwise would significantly impair their financial standing," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., who sponsored the House resolution.


Why did the FCC pass the rules in the first place?

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the Democrat who preceded current Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, sought to bolster consumers' privacy protection with new rules giving them more say in how their personal data would be used. The rules also required Net providers to maintain data security to protect consumer data. Without the rules, ISPs' potential use of users' browsing data could undermine cybersecurity, says Zouhair Belkoura, founder and CEO of content privacy company Keepsafe. That's because browsing data must be decrypted and re-encrypted during your surfing and that "leads to weaker security, which will make people more vulnerable to hacking incidents," he said.


Do companies use my personal information now?

Yes. Google and Facebook aggregate demographic and other profile data to offer advertisers desirable audiences. "The distinguishing factor here is that consumers choose to use Google & Facebook's services and implicitly agree to trade some privacy for the convenience of their services," Belkoura said. Since customers pay ISPs directly, they should expect "privacy is respected," he said.


What happens next?

The FCC is prohibited from proposing new similar privacy regulations on its own, under the Congressional Review Act. But Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., also already promised to introduce legislation charging the FCC to craft new "strong broadband" rules, an action that would allow the FCC to relook at the issue.

Congress could also pass legislation better defining the roles of the FCC and FTC. Chairman Pai pledged to work with the FTC on developing "a consistent and comprehensive" privacy framework.

With more companies not only providing broadband, but also selling online advertising, the issue will remain confusing. "Eventually Congress will need to address the issue, because gaps are likely to remain," said Fred Campbell, director of TechKnowledge, a market-oriented think tank.



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