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Broadband and Your Privacy

Privacy on the internet is a serious issue. You need to protect yourself. Identity and credit fraud are rampant. Online bullying and stalking are major problems. Suffice it to say, you have a lot to worry about when it comes to the internet. Your broadband internet service (ISP) provider shouldn’t be on the list, too.

The good news is, they are not. However, there has been a lot of confusion in the past few years regarding the subject of your ISP and your privacy. In October of 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed regulations stating that ISPs could not collect data on their users. By April of 2017, that rule was overturned.

Understandably, a lot of confusion ensued. Yes, in theory, your ISP could have access to everything you do on the internet. However, that is expensive. Filtering through that much data, analyzing it, and storing it is a monumental effort. Adding to the confusion was Cambridge Analytica breaching user data on Facebook. Not to mention the fight over net neutrality. However, they are all different, separate issues.

Essentially, the FCC regulation banned ISPs from doing something your grocery store does: collect consumer data. Yes, every time you scan your loyalty card, your grocery store is collecting data about what you buy, when you buy it, and what items you tend to buy together—that’s how they know what coupons to print or mail to you. Your ISP collects similar data, like how much bandwidth you use, when you’re most likely to be online, and what areas need better coverage or service. Banning the collection of that data hampered ISPs from better serving you or reaching new customers.

Also, enforcing the October 2016 regulations was expensive. And the regulations yielded little actual protection for broadband consumers. The extra cost of regulation enforcement was only going to be passed on to you, the consumer. Ultimately, the rule meant you were going to pay more for what amounted to a false sense of security.

Internet security is important. Extremely important. However, relying on your ISP or government regulation to keep you safe is not the best practice. With so much banking, shopping, and life in general happening online these days, you must be proactive with your privacy and security.

From a legal standpoint, you’re already protected. In the case Cobbler Nevada v. Gonzales, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled your IP address, the address that lets your ISP know where to send the data you’ve accessed online, is not enough to identify you as an individual. What this means is any information that an ISP could get from you can't identify you.

The Federal Trade Commission has regulations in place for “edge-providers” like Google, Amazon, and Facebook. These companies have access to your ISP’s network. However, they cannot collect any data from it. That isn’t to say they can’t collect data from the actions you take on their platform. That is the entire reason these companies exist. Google collects your search data, Amazon collects your shopping data, and Facebook collects your social data—data that you volunteer to them by using their service—to enhance or personalize your experience on the platform. But they just can’t collect data that isn’t given on their site.

What can you do to protect your privacy and data? Be vigilant. You don’t rely on the police to keep your house safe. You lock your doors and you don’t advertise your valuables to the outside world. Do the same online. Don’t give out any unnecessary information to sources you don’t trust. Limit what you post, like, and follow on social media. If something does happen, if your identity or credit card is stolen, contact the proper authorities. Same as you’d do if someone broke into your house.

The most important thing to do if you’re worried about government regulation is to read. Reach out to the agency or commission responsible and ask for clarification. Contact your congressional representatives. The government is required to publish information on regulatory issues, but it can be difficult to understand. That is where your representatives come in: if you have further questions, ask them. Part of their job is helping you, their constituent, understand what is going on in Washington.

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