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Your Internet Privacy: Is It Time to Freak Out? (Part I)

Guest blog by Katrina Hockman

@Katrina_Hockman

 

Disclaimer: I am not a professional.

I work at a helpdesk. Most of the time I’ll either reflexively tell you to turn it on and off again or pull up the fix-the-password tool via muscle memory alone. I’m working on a CyberSec degree, sure, but I’m in my second semester and probably won’t stop flailing for another year. Even I don’t consider me any sort of authority.

But.

With this area of study, privacy comes part and parcel. I got into it first through a class presentation on the Do Not Track feature and way too many “WTFs” were said during research – so many, in fact, that if I hadn’t been too nervous to regurgitate what I’d already narrowed down (and not my lunch), I’d still have gone over time. It’s creepy. I’ll get into it in a later post, maybe. For now, I’ll let former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler sum it up so I can get to the verbal slap upside the head of certain administrations:

“Your ISP,” he explains, “handles all of your network traffic. That means it has a broad view of … when you are online, the websites you visit, and the apps you use. If you have a mobile device, your provider can track your physical location … Even when data is encrypted, your broadband provider can piece together significant amounts of information about you — including private information such as a chronic medical condition or financial problems.”

Almost exactly one year ago, Tom Wheeler proposed a solution obvious to anyone above the age of five: Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, local-to-AZ Bluespan and other Internet Service Providers should ask before taking. Or in this case, at least give the option to say no, you cannot just go behind my back and sell my metaphorical Tonka truck to little Jimmy down the road.

The problem: Ajit Pai is Chairman now. Along with much of the GOP he believes that the FCC shouldn’t even be trying to regulate this. If anyone should handle privacy rules, they say, it should be the FTC – the Federal Trade Commission.

…I don’t know about you but that sounds a bit wonky to me.

Granted, the FTC is home to the Bureau of Consumer Protection, but the problem is that their job is to enforce federal laws to protect customers from shady business practices. If there is no federal law regulating what an ISP can give away to who then the Bureau can’t exactly tell them no, and that’s what this bill is: it’s a non-law. The undo button on Obama-era protection laws that had yet to even go into effect.

In a word, that means you shouldn’t panic yet. No new power has been granted to ISPs. That hasn’t stopped them from screwing over consumers with what they’ve got, though (AT&T’s Internet Preferences was a catch-22 of bad options – I’ll get to that too). Not to mention the worry that this company-over-people legislation – one of the biggest arguments against ISP privacy regulations is that they’re unfair to ISPs – will open up the door to more.

But yes. I’m sure Foreign Agent Orange will start working for us regular folks any day now.

Guest blog by Katrina Hockman

@Katrina_Hockman

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