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Virginia Foxx in the News

What you should know about ISP's and privacy

By Ben Cogsdale, Ashe Mountain Times

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Washington, April 13, 2017 | comments
A debate surrounding online privacy has been developing at the federal level and the ripple effects could potentially have an impact on how consumers view their own internet activity.

On Oct. 27, 2016, a Democratic majority at the Federal Communications Commision voted to adopt rules that would ensure Internet Service Providers like, Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and, locally, SkyLine Skybest, be required to inform consumers what information they collect from your online activity, or app usage, and how it is used or shared.

Those regulations, which had not yet gone into effect, have been slashed by a Republican controlled congress, first in the Senate on March 23, and subsequently in the House on March 28. On April 3, President Donald Trump signed off on the measure finalizing the nullification of the FCC’s regulations.

The conservative Congress and major cable and telecom companies have argued that the previous administration’s rules put ISPs on unequal footing with other major data-collecting companies such as Google or Facebook, which are overseen instead by the Federal Trade Commission, according to a N.P.R. report.

The FTC’s restrictions are implemented by investigation and enforcement which mean they are less restrictive than the FCC’s, which are preemptive regulations.

However, online privacy advocates argue that consumers are not bound to companies such as Facebook and Google in the same way they are to ISPs.

While consumers have a choice whether to use the services of Google or Facebook, they are often limited to certain ISP’s based on their location.

According to a Washington Post article, privacy advocates also claim that Internet providers may know much more about a person’s activities because they can see all of the sites a customer visits, what they watch on T.V. or what they stream online.

U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx, who represents North Carolina’s fifth congressional district — Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Watauga and Wilkes counties — voted in favor of rolling back the rules adopted by the FCC under the Obama Administration.

In a statement via email, Foxx said, “Rather than work to protect Americans’ privacy through the time-tested FTC process, the FCC’s privacy rules extend only as far as your Internet provider — a small fraction of the Internet. Internet service providers do not have unique or complete access to consumers’ online activity, and there is no justification for subjecting them to a different privacy regime. Simply put, these ineffective rules pick winners and losers, unfairly favoring one type of company over another.”

“The House was forced to act and block this flawed regulation because it arbitrarily treats ISPs differently from the rest of the Internet, attempting to create a false sense of privacy that simply doesn’t exist,” Foxx said. “This resolution puts all segments of the Internet on equal footing and provides American consumers with a consistent set of privacy rules.”

Skyline Skybest was asked by Ashe Mountain Times about its stance on the issue.

Karen Powell, public relations administrator for SkyLine Membership Corp. provided a statement from Skyline: “SkyLine has always kept consumer privacy as a top priority and will continue to do so. Even before the original bill was signed into law last year, SkyLine was not selling and has never sold consumer browsing history. Our stance has not changed. Our customer’s privacy is of the utmost importance, and we will continue to protect our consumers’ privacy”.

How does all this affect the average user?

According to a report by the BBC titled “How will scrapping of US internet privacy rules affect me?,” the average internet user will likely not see any notable difference in their online experience.

Had previous FCC regulations been implemented, users, “logging on to the web via your phone, tablet,” smart TV or laptop might have brought up a request from your ISP for permission to access and share your information”.

The report also states that at a minimum, users might experience more specifically targeted ads — something that privacy advocates claim can work for or against the consumer.

According to the BBC’s report privacy advocates worry ISPs can use the collected data in a discriminatory way, “like showing ads for high-interest loans only to low-income consumers, or prices for products that vary based on the user’s income information.”

Major telecommunication companies Verizon, Comcast and AT&T have released blog posts aimed at easing potential worries that consumers may have. Although these companies aren’t required to inform users how they use their data, they state they do not sell individual browsing history and are committed to user’s online privacy.

In a post on Comcast’s blog, Comcast Voices, it stated, “If a customer does not want us to use other, nonsensitive data to send them targeted ads, we offer them the ability to opt out of receiving such targeted ads.” By clicking the arrow with an “i” in it, users can opt-out of these services.

Users who still feel uneasy about the collection of their online browsing habits can use services like Virtual Private Network’s to encrypt the data left by your computer or smartphone.

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