On Monday, April 3rd, President Trump signed into law a resolution that repealed protections requiring Internet service providers like AT&T, Spectrum Communications (Charter), Sprint and XO Communications (Verizon) to get your permission before collecting and selling your data like web browsing history. These protections, which had not yet gone into effect, were approved by the Federal Communications Commission in the final days of the Obama administration.
Since this big announcement, angry articles have appeared all over the news & social media – people are outraged. “We’re going to lose our privacy” – “They are going to be able to sell our information to the highest bidder” – “Life as we know it has ended – we will never have the right to data privacy again once this law is in place” and on and on, it seems! Essentially, we’ve gone from an opt-in world to the complete opposite.
According to Trade Group USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter, individual “browser history is already being aggregated and sold to advertising networks – by virtually every site you visit on the internet.” It’s been blatantly apparent that companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Target and many other websites have been “stalking” our every move gathering our browsing or purchase history for years. Way back in 2009, Google announced that the companies AdSense service would be using user’s browsing patterns to target adverts. Surely, you’ve noticed that after you’ve been shopping on Amazon, an ad will appear the next day on Facebook selling something similar. Now the same privilege has been extended to your internet Service Provider so there is now an equal playing field for ISPs and Non-ISPs.
AT&T Inc, Comcast and XO have subsequently stated that they would NOT sell their customers personal data for profit; however, they will sell aggregated data. In other words, once your name, address, email address and SSN have been removed, your data has become “de-identified” and can then be aggregated with data from other individuals with similar demographics for targeted advertising…..unless you opt out of having your data collected.
A couple of weeks ago, XO’s privacy officer Karen Zacharia said in a blog post that the company has two programs that use customer browsing data. One allows marketers to access “de-identified information to determine which customers fit into groups that advertisers are trying to reach” while the other “provides aggregate insights that might be useful for advertisers and other businesses.”
Let’s not forget about mobile devices. Your cell phone not only gives your whereabouts, but relays all of your browsing data back to the carriers unless you change your privacy settings and even then, there’s no guarantee that your privacy will remain intact. Remember all of those sites you’ve been to recently? Your browsing history knows more about you than any other person!
Before you decide to opt out of Big Data, you should read this article about a woman who conducted her own social experiment and tried to keep the fact that she was pregnant from all websites, social media and ISP’s. She ended up being very unpopular with her family members and looking like she was a criminal, which to say is very interesting commentary on how much things have changed.
Some tips for protecting your privacy:
For those of you who are anxious to retain your data privacy, there are a few options but no services will guarantee 100% privacy. Services like VPN’ss, Tor and HTTPS encrypted websites will prevent ISP’s from grabbing granular data on customers. Not all VPN’s are created equal so do your research.
This gentleman calls himself “That One Privacy Guy” and has made an in-depth study and comparison of VPNs. It’s an interesting read for those of you that are serious about you privacy!
Other Ways to Opt-Out
NAI opt out of consumer based adverting offers some additional protection for both your browser and your mobile device at http://optout.networkadvertising.org/#/
StopDataMining.me is a centralized online portal for data brokers to (1) identify themselves to consumers and describe how they collect and use consumer data and (2) detail the access rights and other choices they provide with respect to the consumer data they maintained advertising.
Background Check Websites collect your personal data – here is a link to removing yourself – not all of these companies will remove you unless you have a very good reason.
Here are some Privacy Policies you may want to read to get a better idea of what’s out there right now. Most policies state that they do not sell your personal information, but may use it for purposes of advertising within their company and their affiliate companies or use it on behalf of non-affiliate advertisers. They also state that you can control which information is collected and you have the option to opt out of receiving promotional data.
I personally think it’s a huge undertaking to opt-out of all of the data repositories, advertising and install VPN’s. Not many people could be bothered or even think it’s an option. Of greatest concern to me, is how to prevent my information from being stolen; identity fraud and cyber-crime continues to rise no matter how hard we work to prevent it.
This is the world we live in…1984, anyone?