Editorial: What is Internet Privacy?
It’s impossible to comprehend the infinite use and influence the internet has provided in our lifetime. We have grown accustomed to instant access of information to the point that we take it for granted. You have the power to learn and teach yourself in millions of subjects with a few taps or clicks. From fixing a car to building a house, the knowledge is all there for the taking.
It has also connected the world.
Dialogue across the world took time and effort before the internet. A conversation with a friend or family member thousands of miles away can take place in an instant with little to no interruption. This is one of many uses powered by the internet. People have harnessed this power though passion and protest as well. Entire movements were born on the internet.
According to a data analysis by globalWebIndex, 29 out of 34 countries surveyed received their information and media through digital means in Q1 2017. Traditional media such as television, radio, and print are not dead, but there’s a clear winner here.
In a study by domo.com, Americans used more than 18 million megabytes of wireless data every minute in 2016. If you do the math, that’s more than 26 million gigabytes of information a day.
With all this information being shared, the matter of choosing who provides internet to you comes into question. As a utility, our internet is provided by Internet Service Providers, which have grown massively in recent years.
According to a study made by broadband.gov, 78 percent of Americans have access to two or less internet providers. “The data shows that rural areas are less likely to have access to more than one wireline broadband provider than other areas. The data also shows that low-income areas are on average somewhat less likely to have more than one provider than higher-income areas,” the study said.
With that kind of control, there comes a need for more.
There’s a level of blind trust people have for the internet. To think about the amount of personal information we expose to social media and online marketplaces is staggering. The companies you sign up for always give you the option to consent, and “agree” to all the terms and conditions placed to grant them the power to use your information. The recent push for “privacy” and your supposed “right” to privacy is becoming obsolete.
Understand that as long as your machine is connected, your movement and activity online is exposed.
Anti-viruses and firewalls are there to protect you from unwanted access to your immediate information, but the traffic you create and places you visit online are always recorded. The “revelation” that agencies like the National Security Agency have been monitoring activity and information was not a surprise for me. It should not have been for anyone.
This is not meant to spark paranoia or fear; it is only meant to make you aware. With this said, the access to your information is given to those you give permission to, but with recent legislative movement, your personal information will be sold with no repercussions.
The Federal Communications Commission and Change in Power
Here’s a quote from former FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell regarding privacy: “Consumers need to know about these choices (ISPs) as well as whether and how their service plans protect them against spam, spyware and other potential invasions of privacy.”
This was in 2004, at a relatively docile time in internet activism. The FCC understood what the open internet meant. It was becoming a platform for commerce, communication, and entertainment that needed room to breathe and room to grow.
In 2015, then FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler approved the Open Internet Act, which advocated for privacy in Section 222. It stated, “Ensuring the privacy of customer information both directly protects consumers from harm and eliminates consumer concerns about using the internet that could deter broadband deployment.”
Wheeler resigned in January 2017, which led to the appointment of former Associate General Counsel to Verizon and current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who is dismantling everything held by the institution in years past. He said the federal institution presented overreach, showed bias and an uneven playing field. When the “potential invasions of privacy” come from your provider, there is a clear hypocrisy.
Pai is in favor of ditching the Act put in place in 2015, which would give all control of information to the ISPs.
On March 23, the Senate voted 50-48 in favor of selling your information without consent. On March 28, the House of Representatives voted 215-205 in favor of selling your information without consent. This isn’t up for debate anymore. This has already happened.
“As privacy evolves, so too should our regulatory regimes. National governments must put legal checks in place to prevent abuse of state powers, and international bodies need to consider how a changing technological environment shapes security agencies’ best practices,” a statement by advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said.
Privacy is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to internet regulation. It’s an issue swept under the rug due to the barrage of other news in the world. It’s hard to look through the mud.
Advocacy groups like the EFF and Fight for the Future always keep up with legislative decisions made in our government. They offer resources and information relating to the fight for an open internet.
You need to understand how to protect yourself. Convenience has become too commonplace and has made room for your information to be vulnerable. You are always on someone’s list, on a database, or on an online company’s clientele. With these recent events in legislature, people have to understand that convenience allows your privacy to be transparent.
Monitor your movement online. You need to be aware of the types of services you use, and how much information you allow those services to have.
Keep a physical notebook of your passwords and accounts and never use the same password for different accounts. If one of your passwords is stolen, you set yourself up for more breach of information. Never save your shipping or billing address, and especially your financial information when checking out.
Learn about encryption, and educate yourself on how to better secure your personal devices. Protecting yourself and your information has to become a priority now that legislation has allowed this abhorrent transfer of power to major Internet Service Providers.
These actions by the FCC are losses for the millions of Americans who use the internet everyday. However, don’t think the fight is over. Net Neutrality is a concept that is in jeopardy at this very moment, and the way you see and use the internet could change in drastic ways.