A bill recently signed into law by President Trump allows Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to sell customers’ browsing data to advertisers.
According to the New York Times, Verizon, Comcast and AT&T can continue tracking and sharing people’s browsing and app activity without permission.
There’s been some pushback since the bill was announced, but QuocNam Tran, chair of the computer science department, said the bill only reverts the rules to the way they were before the Obama administration changed them in 2016.
“I don’t see this affecting much,” he said. “This was the way it’s been up until a few months ago. ISPs have always been able to sell your information.”
ISPs were upset that websites such as Facebook, Google and Twitter could sell information to advertisers without their using consent, while the ISPs were forbidden to do so, Tran said.
“The ISPs told the Federal Communications Commission that it wasn’t fair websites could do what they couldn’t,” Tran said. “They also complained to the Congress, and Congress was able to do something about it.”
The FCC regulates ISPs, such as Verizon, Comcast and Midcontinent, while the Federal Trade Commission regulates individual Internet companies, such as Facebook, Google and Twitter.
The bill, signed by Trump on April 3, was voted on down party lines, and received no Democratic support.
South Dakota Senator Mike Rounds voted in favor of the bill. He said it brings the FCC back to the drawing board on how it wants to regulate the Internet.
“It’s a rule that we challenged and stopped, a rule that was already held up by the courts,” Rounds said.
Rounds said there’s a lot of misinformation being spread about the bill and the effects it has.
“The actual regulation that we stopped from going into effect had already been stopped by the courts and was not in effect,” he said. “For individuals that think there should be additional protections put in place, we think that’s a reasonable concern to have.”
The bill doesn’t do anything to Internet privacy, but rather stops a regulation the FCC had planned, Rounds said.
“It’s not that the bill protects Internet privacy, it’s that the rules remain the same,” Rounds said. “What we addressed was a rule that was proposed by the FCC would have changed how the approach on Internet privacy was going to be delivered.”
Rounds wants the FCC to try again on Internet privacy rules.
“We liked the way the FTC was doing things before the FCC took over,” he said. “We want them to go back and see what the FTC did, what they’re doing and how to reconcile the two to get the best solution for everyone.”
Tran said there are three methods for people to protect their online privacy:
- Tor is a free software that allows users to access the Internet anonymously, although it has slow connection speeds.
- HTTPS (Hyper Text Transfer Protocol Secure) hides information from ISPs, but allows websites to see users’ information.
- VPNs (Virtual Private Networks) are what banks use to protect information while banking online. Websites and ISPs are unable to track your information.
Shamly Mackey, a senior computer science major, said he frequently uses VPNs when browsing the Internet.
“I try to use VPN whenever possible,” he said. “For certain important tasks, I would use it. But I don’t really post on Facebook or anything that often. If you go to social media sites, you won’t find out much about me.”
Mackey said he doesn’t use social media often because he doesn’t want strangers to have all of his information.
“Let’s just take social media sites in general,” Mackey said. “Another normal person can find out so much about you if you haven’t properly privatized that. If you view an object on Amazon, you’ll find advertisements on Facebook about what you were looking at.”
While Mackey thinks Internet privacy is something people value, he said that most don’t know how to protect their information online.
“I think students take it seriously but don’t know enough about it to do anything,” he said. “I think we need to do more to educate students so they know how to protect themselves when they are online.”
Rounds said Internet privacy is an issue everyone is invested in.
“We know that (Internet privacy) is important,” Rounds said. “We just want it to be workable. We want it to be one that allows us sustain access to Internet sites and not make it a burdensome to get around the Internet.”
Tran said students should practice caution while online.
“Just be careful with what you post,” he said. “People are watching, not just websites or ISPs. You don’t want to post your entire life on there, or it could come back to harm you.”