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Your Internet History is Now For Sale

Most of us are acutely aware of the fact that everything you do on the Internet can be monitored and tracked by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Every site you visit, how long you spend on the site, what you click on, etc., can be logged and is typically maintained by your ISP. And it does not make a difference if you’re browsing via incognito mode.

During the Obama administration, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) implemented rules designed to prevent ISPs from gathering data and reselling it without consumer consent. Those protections were designed to limit what companies could do with information such as browsing habits, app usage history and location data. The FCC online privacy rules were set to go into effect by the end of the year.

This week, in a party-line vote, House and Senate Republicans lifted the reigns from ISPs such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast. If Trump signs the legislation, which he is expected to do, ISPs will be able to monitor their customers’ behavior online and, without their permission, sell that user data directly to marketing companies, financial firms, and other companies that specialize in data mining.

Advocates for privacy protections online called the House and Senate action “a tremendous setback for America.” “Lawmakers who voted in favor of this bill just sold out the American people to special interests,” said Representative Jared Polis. And Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the Republican-led effort was about putting profits over the privacy concerns of Americans.

Republicans that voted in favor of overturning the FCC online privacy rules argued that the privacy regulations would stifle innovation by forcing Internet providers to abide by unreasonably strict guidelines. Some Republicans also stated that eliminating the FCC privacy rules would enhance consumer privacy. Interesting.

But one of the chief arguments for repealing the FCC online privacy regulations was that they’re duplicative of Federal Trade Commission (FTC) rules. They argue that the FCC rules would be disruptive of the current regime, that they would create a double standard solely for ISPs. In fact, broadband providers do not currently fall under FTC jurisdictions. The FCC rules that were repealed did not step-on the FTC guidelines; rather, they finally gave some definition for how ISPs need to protect consumer information.

Why should educators be concerned about this action? Most CA schools use K12HSN as their ISP, but it’s what happens beyond the school connection that concerns me. According to CNN, tweens and teens spend about 7 hours a day using media. And those 7 hours, mostly spent online, do not include time spent using media at school or for their homework. Given the granularity of data being collected, and now with few restraints on how that information is used, ISPs will be able to more effectively target young people with advertising. Tracking teens’ digital trails will help companies precisely determine their interests, preferences, and their locations so they can market products to them. This will likely result in further exploiting their insecurities and vulnerabilities, which sadly just reinforces that self-worth is determined by what they own or don’t own.


John Fleischman is CUE’s Sacramento-based Legislative Policy Consultant and former Assistant Superintendent of Technology Services at the Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE). He possesses an extensive background with creating and implementing informational and instructional media for use in a variety of educational environments. Working at the regional, state and national level he is currently guiding development and enhancement for several major technology initiatives including the Outreach and Technology Assistance Network and U.S.A. Learns, a comprehensive online program for teaching English to older adolescents and adults. John serves on a number of advisory boards and committees for a variety of different projects and organizations such as the Internet2 K20 Initiative, California K12 High Speed Network, California Education Technology Task Force, California County Superintendents Educational Services Association, CUE, and the Sacramento Educational Cable Consortium.
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