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The FCC, Broadband Privacy, and You

June 04, 2017

There’s been a lot of news coverage lately about the rollback of the Federal Communication Commission’s broadband privacy rules, which kept broadband providers from selling your personal information without permission. It sounds pretty serious, but what does it really mean to you? In a nutshell, it means that you must take responsibility for your own online privacy—in other words, nothing has changed. Here’s what you need to know.


Life Without the Rules

The first thing to know is that the FCC’s broadband privacy rules hadn’t gone into effect yet, so you’re no worse off than you were before. Right now, your broadband provider is not allowed to sell “sensitive information,” such as children’s information, Social Security numbers, medical and financial information. But they are allowed to gather and sell information about your browsing history and app usage unless you explicitly opt out. When they sell that information, you can end up deluged with unwanted advertising and there’s some concern that criminals could buy the information and use it for targeted scams.

Late in 2016, the FCC adopted new rules requiring broadband service providers like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast to get permission from customers before gathering and sharing information about them. The senate voted to roll back those rules in March 2017. Part of the argument was that the rules didn’t apply to social media companies or Internet service providers so those other companies could go right on selling information about you to online advertisers.


Protecting Your Online Privacy

The bottom line is that rules or no rules, you need to protect your own privacy online. First, use your browser’s privacy settings to prevent anyone keeping tabs on you. Second, check with your broadband provider and find out how to opt out of tracking. (Since the negative press about the rollback, several broadband providers have publicly stated that they don’t sell customers’ browsing histories. Instead, they use your information themselves and they charge advertisers to deliver advertising targeted at you.) The third thing you can do, if you’re concerned about online privacy, is to get involved. Nearly 50,000 consumers signed an online petition favoring the FCC privacy rules, and many states are considering rules of their own. If you want stronger Internet privacy, drop your state legislator, U.S. representative or congressperson a note and let them know how you feel. If you’re going to be tracked, you should also be heard!

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