The FCC Just Made Your Online World Less Private


A new White House administration and Congress are moving quickly on high-profile policy like immigration and health care – issues that are dominating the headlines. Another potential policy shift that is getting much less mainstream media attention could threaten the privacy of nearly every American.

In a vote in early March the FCC blocked the implementation of internet privacy rules designed to protect consumers online, according to their authors. Combined with this week’s news of Wikileaks’ allegations of CIA hacking, and other major privacy and security breaches over the past year, including Yahoo! Mail hack and DDOS attacks, the American public is experiencing a slow, but inexorable erosion of its confidence in online privacy.

The new FCC decision rolls back rules preventing wireless and in-home broadband providers from tracking and selling users’ browsing history, app usage and location data. That policy shift impacts not only the moral right of every American, but also business, innovation and progress. It is one of many moves by the FCC that can have a broad-reaching effect on the online privacy of all Americans today, and well into the future.

Emerging technologies increasingly rely on the exchange of personal information to deliver conveniences or productivity. That ability to monitor what we see, say and do on the internet seems to be making consumers more concerned over online privacy. According to the Pew Research Center, 91 percent of adults agree or strongly agree that consumers have lost control of how personal information is collected and used by companies. A recent Consumer Reports survey also found that 66 percent of Americans said they don’t trust the government to look out for consumer interests. But, since the now-rescinded FCC rules were never formally implemented, few Americans were probably even aware of them.

Americans uneasiness with what government and business does with private information probably isn’t abating any time soon. Privacy is a technology issue, a personal issue, a finance issue, and a moral issue. As everyday life has become increasingly digital, the amount of data accumulated about individuals online has become enormous. Ninety percent of all the personal data available online has been accumulated over the last three years; that is shocking.

And in the next five years, the personal data available online will become exponentially larger. This data trove will derive from any number of conveniences like apprising your doctor in real time on health conditions and ordering groceries directly from data provided by your refrigerator. And billions of devices, such as our garage openers, refrigerators, thermostats and mattresses, will become connected to the web via The Internet of Things, while billions of users living in developing markets will join the Internet for the first time moving from feature phones to smartphones.

The overall result is an incomprehensibly vast sea of data ebbing and flowing all over the internet. And that sea of data could create a bountiful fishing hole for hackers, identity thieves, malware, or even legitimate companies.