Browsing History for Sale

On April 6th, President Donald Trump signed legislation overturning what was previously the “strongest internet privacy protections for individuals”. As with any new legislation, especially when the legislation could impact our data security, we are left wondering at the consequences. Will my boss be able to discover how much time I spend watching funny cat videos at work? Is the government going to keep tabs on my every questionable Google search?

FIrst things first: this legislation is not opening up any new options for broadband providers. A brief synopsis of what could have been is provided in The Washington Post’s article, “The rules could have banned Internet providers from collecting, storing, sharing and selling certain types of personal information – such as browsing histories, app usage data, location information and more – without your consent.” According to the same article, this also does NOT mean that the Federal Communications Commission will be entirely impotent, the agency can still bring lawsuits against companies – as long as the rules don’t look similar to what Congress and the President rejected this week.

Though this is nothing new, the absence of those new safeguards could still have consequences for consumers to be wary of. Your internet provider knows not only where you are, but what you’re looking at online, which, as CNN contributor Selena Larson points out, could lead to inferences about various personal things, for example they could infer that you’ve come down with the flu based on your visit to WebMD. As reported by Reuters, any major internet providers have already released statements assuring the public that they do not sell individual customer’s internet web browsing history, and that they have no plans to begin selling that information; in fact the sale of aggregated customer browser data is already in use by most major websites, such as Facebook and Google, for advertising and marketing targeting purposes. AS pointed out in CNN’s article on what you need to know, there are numerous tools for blocking advertisers from tracking your activity, however, they won’t prevent your internet provider from accumulating that data. In fact, as that author reiterates, using your Google Chrome’s incognito tab may prevent your wife from seeing adult content in your internet history, but it won’t prevent Comcast from knowing.

If you’re now considering going totally off-the-grid to avoid the creepy crawly sensation of being watched a la 1984, you can take a deep breath. There are things you can do, which are nicely detailed in both the linked CNN article, and this Washington Post article. The highlights include utilizing things like VPNs and http websites.

Though we can only prepare for the legislation as it currently exists, I have to ask: do you think the privacy laws passed under President Obama would have significantly impacted the average consumer’s internet security?


-Written by aspiring JD candidate Breana Smith, University of Michigan., Bachelor’s of Arts, Magna Cum Laude.