How does broad­band pri­vacy vote af­fect you?

Rules would have re­stricted firms’ use of your in­for­ma­tion.

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS - By Tali Arbel Pri­vacy

Now that both houses of Congress have voted to block pro­posed Obama-era broad­band pri­vacy rules, what does that mean for you?

In the short term, not so much. The rules, which would have put tough re­stric­tions on what com­pa­nies like Com­cast, Ver­i­zon and AT&T can do with in­for­ma­tion such as your in­ter­net his­tory, hadn’t yet gone into ef­fect. So if President Don­ald Trump signs the mea­sure, as the White House has in­di­cated he will, the sta­tus quo will re­main.

But the ab­sence of clear pri­vacy rules means that the com­pa­nies sup­ply­ing your in­ter­net ser­vice — which can see a great deal of what you do with it — can con­tinue to mine that in­for­ma­tion for use in their own ad­ver­tis­ing busi­nesses.

And con­sumer ad­vo­cates worry that the com­pa­nies will be an en­tic­ing tar­get for hack­ers.

Here’s how that could play out and what it means:

What changes now

Not much, at least im­me­di­ately. For now, phone and ca­ble com­pa­nies re­main sub­ject to fed­eral law that im­poses on broad­band providers a “duty to pro­tect the con­fi­den­tial­ity” of cus­tomer in­for­ma­tion and re­stricts them from us­ing some cus­tomer data with­out “ap­proval.”

But it doesn’t spell out how com­pa­nies must get per­mis­sion, how they must pro­tect your data, or whether and how they have to tell you if it’s been hacked.

What rules would have changed?

Un­der the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion’s rules, Com­cast and its ilk would have needed your per­mis­sion be­fore of­fer­ing mar­keters a wealth of in­for­ma­tion about you, in­clud­ing health and fi­nan­cial de­tails, your ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion and lists of web­sites you’ve vis­ited and apps you’ve used.

Repub­li­cans and in­dus­try of­fi­cials com­plained that the brows­ing and app his­tory re­stric­tions would have un­fairly bur­dened in­ter­net providers, since other com­pa­nies such as Google and Face­book don’t have to abide by them.

That’s im­por­tant be­cause the big­gest broad­band com­pa­nies want to build ad busi­nesses to ri­val those tech giants. This rule would have made that more dif­fi­cult.

These rules also re­quired broad­band providers to take rea­son­able mea­sures to pro­tect cus­tomer in­for­ma­tion, al­though those weren’t spelled out. They also re­quired these com­pa­nies to tell you if your in­for­ma­tion had been hacked.

Can you stop providers from col­lect­ing your data?

Yes, but it’s not easy. Broad­band providers to­day let you “opt out” of us­ing their data, al­though fig­ur­ing out how to do that can be dif­fi­cult.

In­stead, the dig­i­tal rights group Elec­tronic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion sug­gests you might pay to use a vir­tual pri­vate net­work, which fun­nels your in­ter­net traf­fic through a se­cure con­nec­tion that your provider can’t see into. But good VPNs aren’t free, you have to figure out which ones you can trust, and un­less you go to the trou­ble of set­ting one up on your home router — not a straight­for­ward task — you would need to set them up on every phone, tablet and com­puter in your home.

The EFF and other sup­port­ers of the pri­vacy rules also point out that in many mar­kets con­sumer choices are lim­ited when it comes to home broad­band, so you of­ten can’t just switch providers if you don’t like their pri­vacy poli­cies.

Does my state have my back?

Maybe. Many state laws bar un­fair or de­cep­tive prac­tices, which they can use against pri­vacy vi­o­la­tions. Other state and fed­eral reg­u­la­tions aim to pro­tect med­i­cal and fi­nan­cial records, but may not ap­ply to in­ter­net ser­vice providers.

Only a few states reg­u­late spe­cific prac­tices by broad­band providers, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures, which tracks state laws.

The vast ma­jor­ity of states do re­quire busi­ness and gov­ern­ment to tell their res­i­dents when their in­for­ma­tion has been hacked, ac­cord­ing to the NCSL, but they have dif­fer­ent ap­proaches. At least 13 states re­quire busi­nesses to have rea­son­able se­cu­rity prac­tices.

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