As you likely know by now, the U.S. Senate has voted down new rules by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would force Internet service providers (ISPs) to request permission from customers before selling data regarding their browsing habits to third parties. According to privacy advocates everywhere — not to mention us here at Cloudwards.net — this is going to open the door on all kinds of spying by ISPs.
The FCC rules, which had been initially approved by the Senate back in October, required ISPs to present customers with a choice to either opt in or out of the sale of their data to third parties, including advertising and marketing agencies. However, with the changing of the guard in January, when the White House and all of Capitol Hill passed into Republican hands, a very different kind of legislator took over.
Many Republican senators felt that the new FCC rules hampered economic growth and would hurt job creators. The senator that introduced the motion to strike down the FCC rules, Jeff Flake from Arizona, did so because he wanted to “protect consumers from overreaching Internet regulation.” The newly appointed FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, not only agreed with this, but also felt that the new rules would confuse people.
“American consumers should not have to be lawyers or engineers to figure out if their information is protected,” said Pai, who thinks that it is wrong to have two different sets of standards governing the behavior of ISPs on one hand and social media sites like Facebook on the other. It should be noted that Pai has been a very controversial appointment to the FCC, as he is strongly opposed to net neutrality as well as regulation of media monopolies.
Meanwhile, the badly outnumbered Democrats in the Senate are mostly relying on rhetoric to combat the striking down of the FFC rules. According to Senator Ed Markey from Massachusetts, ISP now apparently stands for “information sold for profit” and “invading subscriber privacy.”
By striking down the rules, the Republicans have made it possible for ISPs to do whatever they want with customer data, which raises all kinds of scary specters. As Senator Bill Nelson from Florida points out, ISPs do not only have access to the sites you visit, they can also track your movements thanks to the GPS in your phone, for example.
Their biggest power is, however, that they can also deduce other information from these facts, from the time you get up each morning to whether you’re feeling ill on any given day.
Citizens in the Middle
Less than a week after the Senate struck down the rules, the House of Representatives followed suit and endorsed the decision. Unless President Trump vetoes the new bill, from December 4, 2017 onward ISPs can sell customer data to whomever they like. However, as Trump is, well, Trump, this is not likely to happen, which means that by the end of the year it will be open season on ISP customers in the U.S., which is pretty much everyone.
With the Republicans wanting to hand power over data to large corporations and the Democrats hamstrung by virtue of being outnumbered, it seems that the average U.S. citizen is going to have to take matters into their own hands when it comes to protecting their data. This is where a sliver-thin silver lining comes into play: protecting yourself from any kind of snooping is in anyone’s reach.
Privacy Under Attack
Although here at Cloudwards.net we prefer not to be political — we want to focus on picking the best cloud storage and online backup services for our readers, not tell them how to think — we do feel we need to emphasize how terrible the U.S. government’s decision was when it comes to every person’s natural right to privacy.
ISPs have no right — none — to even look at your personal browsing data, let alone sell it to Lord-knows-who to make a few bucks.
In this increasingly wired world it’s not just browsing history that’s at stake: though it would be embarrassing for a pro soccer player if it came out he likes cute cat videos or a government minister that she has some exotic tastes in porn, it’s nothing compared to the mountain of financial and medical information that travels over the Internet on a daily basis.
How to Protect Your Privacy
There are plenty of tools to protect your privacy, but the best way to defend yourself is to get a VPN. If you don’t know what that is, we have an article on how VPNs work. We have a list of what we think are the best VPNs and though you may not agree with our picks, trust us when we say that if you live in the States, you need to get hooked up with one before December rolls around. You may find that your personal data is a commodity just like anything else, otherwise.
Setting up a VPN is easy and, depending on which provider you go with, does not need to break the bank. Some of the providers we like will offer you a great deal if you sign up for a full year, others will give you the option to try it out before deciding. We have a big stack of reviews, so look through them at your leisure — you have till December, after all — but make sure you decide at some point unless you like ISPs snooping on you — as if the NSA wasn’t bad enough.
The U.S. has made a truly scary decision that will affect every American with an Internet connection; equally scary is, however, the precedent they are setting for the rest of the world. In every legislature around the world — from Brussels to Delhi, from Buenos Aires to Moscow — there will be elected representatives that think having their citizens’ private data on the open market is just a swell idea.
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Though current American politics can seem like a joke to the rest of us, it could very well be that in just a few years our laughter will stop altogether as the rest of us, too, are forced to sign up with a VPN provider just to block ISPs from spying on us. The coming years are looking like they will be a dark time for Internet freedom and privacy for everyone.
How do you think the striking down of the FCC rules will affect people? Let us know in the comments below, thank you for reading.