Internet Service Providers Vs. The Privacy Battle

April 21, 2017

Sometime in March, the Senate in the United States of America had a vote to eliminate broadband privacy rules that would require internet service providers (ISP’s) to get consumer’s explicit consent before selling or sharing web browsing data and other private information with advertisers and other companies. Thereafter, President Trump gave the green light to sell consumers browsing history and since then, critics believe that an individual’s right to privacy is being threatened and curtailed with the new law. A similar bill was also approved in the United Kingdom by the House of Lords last year November.

What is the rule all about?

The rule requires ISPs to get explicit opt-in consent from customers before selling their sensitive data, including web browsing history, Geo-location data, financial and health information, children’s information, social security numbers, app usage history and the content of communications. The rule also enforces ISP’s to clearly notify customers about the types of information they collect, specify how they use and share the information and identify the type of entities they share the information with.


Various critics and industry professionals have voiced out their concerns and opinions of this rule. Some have said it give hackers the opportunity to get into classified records. In a conversation with the BBC news, James Blessing, the Chairman of the Internet Service Providers Association which represents BT, Sky, Virgin Media, Talktalk and others, who is against the new rule said, “it only takes one bad actor to go in there and get the entire database. You can try every conceivable thing in the entire world to protect it but somebody will still outsmart you. Mistakes will happen. It is a question of when. Hopefully it’s in tens or maybe a hundred years. But it might be next week”.


Internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T have announced that they have no plans to profit from sharing their customers’ personal information with advertisers, despite the overturned Federal Communications Commission’s guidelines according to Tribune Media Wire. But is that enough for us consumers?


On the other hand, several Virtual Private Network (VPN’s) operators have seized on the introduction to promote their products. VPNs digitally scramble a user’s internet traffic and send it to one of their own servers before passing it onto a site or app in a form they can make sense of. A similar process happens in reverse, helping mask the person’s online activity. As a result, instead of ISPs having a log of everywhere a customer has visited, the only thing they can provide to the authorities is the fact that a subscriber used a VPN.


So how does this rule apply to Ireland?

Earlier this month, the MEP’s in the European Union decided to take a closer look as concerns are mounting that EU citizens will also see their basic privacy rights undermined. The Telecommunications and Internet Federation (TIF) in Ireland is holding fire with regard to its views on the US move. It claims that it’s “not aware of any proposal for the EU to undertake anything similar to that envisaged in the US”. “However, it should be pointed out that all TIF member companies adhere scrupulously to all relevant EU and national legislation regarding data,” said a spokesperson.


In conclusion, although consumers are given the opportunity to consent to their browsing history being shared the ISP’s here are a few mind boggling questions, do consumers still have the right to opt-out? What does the rule say about that? Would it be a simple process as giving consent? The steady erosion of individual privacy individual continues. Capitalism and commerce has identified a resource to mine and regulators are in for the fight of their lives. In the meantime, it might be a good idea to look into VPN providers.

ByBlessing Duke