President Donald Trump on Monday signed a bill rolling back online privacy protections, and a pair of bills have been introduced at the Washington Legislature to require customer permission before selling personal information to marketers.
Dallas Harris, a policy fellow at Public Knowledge, a group that advocates for open internet, told The Associated Press this week that states are largely free to impose stricter regulations.
“Internet service providers have put themselves in a bit of a conundrum here,” Harris said. “They’ve bucked the federal rule, and they’re going to get what they hate the most — a bunch of state laws.”
The Obama-era regulation, to have taken effect later this year, would have required internet providers to receive consent before sharing customers’ personal information.
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“With this new piece of legislation, (the Obama-era regulations) are gone,” said Anderson Nascimento, assistant professor for the Institute of Technology at University of Washington Tacoma.
The federal policy shift could have wide-ranging privacy implications for everyone online, said Janine Terrano, CEO and founder of Tacoma-based Topia Technology. The company specializes in keeping its customers’ data safe.
The action, Terrano said, is an erosion of civil liberties and violates privacy in the same way a bugged office might. She and her company are concerned for the broader implication it could have for consumer privacy.
“We used to take great offense to even think about somebody overhearing our private conversations,” Terrano said. “We don’t have the same recoil effect (for internet browsing history) because its so subtle. … The challenge of the digital world is it’s not squarely in our face.”
A customer’s browsing history — terms they search for, things they download, items they buy and websites they regularly interact with — can be a very lucrative commodity, she said.
“The slippery slope of course is, if we start with browsing history, where does it end?” she said. “… The federal government is giving (internet service providers) carte blanche authority to track what you access on the internet.”
As more and more devices are connected to the internet, called the internet of things, customer data is going to become even more valuable, Terrano said.
“Make no mistake, the large companies are after our data, period,” she said. “The one that controls the data in the home is going to be a big winner.”
As someone who runs a technology company, Terrano said she’s toyed with a tech-savvy solution.
“I’ve been mulling over how do we create an app for your desktop or mobile devices that constantly does searches to dilute the quality of the data,” Terrano said.
Poor quality data will be less valuable to companies, she said.
To protect themselves, Nascimento recommends people use a virtual private network, or VPN, when doing things online. Instead of directly connecting to a website, a user connects through a VPN. Internet browsing may be slower than a direct connection, he said.
“Everything between you and the server is encrypted,” he said. “The ISP only knows you are connected to the VPN, and that’s it.”
People can employ other tactics in reaction to the law change, he said.
Customers can also seek ISPs that refuse to collect or sell customer data, but he said that’s difficult in areas where there are few choices in the market.
“You have political pressure you can apply to representatives to change the legislation,” Nascimento said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report