The issue of digital privacy is a predominant topic of citizen rights in today’s digital age. Information that tacitly is your property, is no longer expressly protected. In fact, our personal information is used as an economic transaction tool which has deleterious effects on us on a personal and societal scale. In instances where the merchants of our personal information are identified for their actions, they take refuge in Kafkaesque user agreements that citizens have simply clicked on for approval in order to gain access to the service; agreements that are rarely read and display lack of clear and concise intent.
The highway of digital privacy has not been protected by those entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring your information stays with you and no one else; your internet service provider (ISP). Your ISP can gather an extraordinary amount of private information about you: Not just your browsing history, but also the videos you view, your messages, your phone calls and the games you play. All of these traverse the internet now.
Your internet service provider also knows your physical location via a technique called “geolocation.” An illustration of the problems this raises is the recent move by a Massachusetts advertising company to track the location of women and then send them targeted anti-abortion ads when the women were near abortion clinics. The same tactics could be used to track who visited a particular store, gun show, house of worship, political rally or other site or event.
Because there is no law that prohibits your internet service provider to sell this data without your permission, it is highly likely that your private data is already available to criminals and governments. Additionally, U.S. businesses have repeatedly shown themselves to be unable to guard customer data. The issues are complex and require a comprehensive approach.
We are part of the internet service provider industry and open, transparent competition should be our protection against bad behavior like privacy breaches. Unfortunately, there is little competition among internet service providers because of entrenched interests and most people effectively have only one choice. Therefore, the potential violation of privacy allowed by our current regulatory regime is so great that something must be done. If for every citizen, massive amounts of private data are available, then the rest of our constitutional protections become meaningless.
The big internet service providers tell us that we can trust them to regulate themselves, but a search on “Verizon super cookie FCC fine,” “Comcast network neutrality violation” and “ISP deep packet inspection” shows otherwise. Public companies are optimized to maximize shareholder value and public company employees are rewarded for doing so.
We sell internet access, and we know that if people can’t trust the internet, then the value of the internet is significantly lessened, as it will be used less for sensitive applications. Even if government regulation blocks us from making money selling customer data (something we never ever do), we still benefit because a trusted internet is more valuable to all our customers.
As internet consumers, be cognizant and vigilant about your privacy but know that; in the end, if you are a customer of ours, under no circumstances will we EVER sell your information. Your data is personal and should remain as such.