How Much Personal Data Do You Give Your ISP?

The Chairman of the FCC is proposing significant new rules that allow consumers to better protect their data from ISPs.

How Much Personal Data Do You Give Your ISP?

This week Tom Wheeler, the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), proposed rules that would require Internet service providers (ISP) to obtain the consent of their customers before the broadband provider can use or share user data. Similar to how the phone company is limited in how it can use information about your telephone usage, Wheeler argues that ISPs should be required to do the same, or at least seek the permission of their customers before using their data.


“Today, I’m proposing to my colleagues that we empower consumers to ensure they have control over how their information is used by their Internet service provider,” he writes in an opinion piece for Re/code. “Every broadband consumer should have the right to know what information is being collected and how it is used. Every broadband consumer should have the right to choose how their information bits are used and shared. And every consumer should be confident that their information is being securely protected.”

For most of us, the Internet provider we use from home knows a lot about our unencrypted browsing habits. They know the websites we visit, when we visit them, and how long we stay there. And even when our browsing is encrypted, there are ways for the ISP to determine our online activity. To be sure, there are applications that help hide our online behavior. Anonymizing apps like Tor for example. Unfortunately, by simply using and accessing the Internet through our home Internet service provider or through our mobile phones we end up sharing lots of personal, private data.

Indeed, what Wheeler is arguing is that even if ISPs can figure out who we are and what we’re interested in based on our browsing habits, we should at least have a say in how that data is used. We should be able to control how that data is shared with marketers and others who would use it to sell us things.

“ISPs would be able to use and share customer information with their affiliates to market other communications-related services unless you “opt out” and ask them not to,” says Wheeler. “All other uses and sharing of your personal data would require your affirmative “opt-in” consent.”

This idea of “opt-in” consent is significant.  To be clear, under Wheeler’s proposal “ISPs would be able to use information about where you want to go on the Internet in order to deliver the broadband service you signed up for, just as phone companies can use the phone numbers you dial to connect you to your calls. They would also be able to use customer information for other purposes that are consistent with customer expectations; for example, to market higher-speed connections and to bill for their services.” But, for all other uses, you’d have to opt-in and allow the ISP to use your data for those cases.

It’s uncertain where this will end up. On March 31, FCC commissioners will vote to seek comment on the proposal. After that, Americans will have the opportunity to weigh in and add their comments about the proposition. What is evident, however, is that for many people, including Wheeler, our data is our data and shouldn’t be controlled by anyone but us.

Live on Monday: Does the US need one billion people?

What would happen if you tripled the US population? Matthew Yglesias and moderator Charles Duhigg explore the idea on Big Think Live.

Big Think LIVE

Is immigration key to bolstering the American economy? Could having one billion Americans secure the US's position as the global superpower?

Keep reading Show less

Mystery anomaly weakens Earth's magnetic field, report scientists

A strange weakness in the Earth's protective magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.

Satellite data shows a new, eastern center emerging in the South Atlantic Anomaly.

ESA
Surprising Science
  • "The South Atlantic Anomaly" in the Earth's magnetic field is growing and possibly splitting, shows data.
  • The information was gathered by the ESA's Swarm Constellation mission satellites.
  • The changes may indicate the coming reversal of the North and South Poles.
Keep reading Show less

In praise of nudity: The nudist beaches of Central and Eastern Europe

"Nothing but naked people: fat ones, thin ones, old, young…"

Photo by Jessica D. Vega on Unsplash
Culture & Religion
They lie on towels, blankets and mattresses, without wind screens, but under umbrellas.
Keep reading Show less

In 2020, more men and women are likely to consider sex with a robot

Would you ever have sex with a robot?

Credit: Dim Dimich on Shutterstock
Technology & Innovation
  • In 2016, "Harmony", the world's first AI sex robot was designed by a tech firm called Realbotix.
  • According to 2020 survey data, more than one in five Americans (22 percent) say they would consider having sex with a robot. This is an increase from a survey conducted in 2017.
  • Robots (and robotic tech) already play a vital role in speeding up manufacturing, packaging, and processing across various industries.
Keep reading Show less
Technology & Innovation

Earth alienation: Hannah Arendt on outer space

This space expansionist ideology marked the beginning of what Arendt called "earth alienation."

Scroll down to load more…
Quantcast