US Internet Privacy Rules: How Will The Changes Affect Aussie Expats?

Last week, the US Senate and Congress voted to repeal privacy laws enacted by the Obama administration. Now, ISPs in the United States will be able to sell customer browsing data. Is this something to get up in arms about? If our browsing history is now up for sale, what can we do about it?

There has been some quite hysterical commentary on this matter. I'm not saying it's a minor change - I think it's a massive blow against privacy - but the suggestion that the data would be sold with our Personally Identifiable Information (PII) attached to it is nuts.

The data being sold (if it is to be sold) will be anonymised and aggregated. By the way - the magical combination of outrage and a celebrity is not how to combat this.

The US Telecommunications Act prohibits the sale or sharing of PII so you won't be able to buy your favourite politician's late night browsing history.

I travel to the US regularly - usually four or five times per year - so I expect some of my data to be swept up with this. For the last year or so, I have abandoned public WiFi unless it's my only option (like now, as I'm sitting in a hotel room across the ditch). And then, I always use a VPN.

Google has been caught out, with their algorithmic marketing tools serving up ads to websites and YouTube channels that are allegedly affiliated with terrorist networks. I'm not sure it's a coincidence that these changed laws have been rushed through just as this story was breaking.

Many industries have been disrupted by Google. But the availability of this data could be used to strike back against the search and advertising giant. With the flaws of algorithmic marketing laid out, a new data set, that gives a rich view into the internet habits of demographic groups could drive a new advertising and marketing channel.

And American ISPs, if they can get their act together, could reap that whirlwind.

If you're traveling to the US and want to hide your browsing habits, you could use a VPN. However, you'll need to choose your VPN provider carefully. The big question to ask them is whether they retain your browsing history.

Krebs on Security says it's possible your VPN provider could be holding your browsing history in their logs. In theory, they could then sell it.

So, while using a VPN could hide your data from the ISPs logs, you'll need to ensure it's a decent VPN. And, as Ars Technica notes, you need to trust your VPN - while they were made for privacy, VPNs aren't designed for anonymity.

The good news is major US ISPs have agreed to not sell the data, for now, unless customers specifically opt in. I assume that when they decide to start selling the data there will be incentives for customers to make their data available.

Until then, my advice is to use a VPN from a reputable source when travelling in the United States.


Comments

    "PII" ?

      If I understand it right, what it means is that they cant reveal what YOU have done, unless obligated under law or with your approval.

      They might say how many times their users accessed hellokitty.com but they wont say who without your approval. The big change is meant to be about aggregate information, not individual information.

      Of course, that approval might get embedded in all their EULA's, at which point EFF or similar make plenty of noise, some little granny victim is rolled out for all to see, and the world as we know it ends.

      Until then, nothing changes except they can make some money out of what their clients do.

      The worry is that its an avenue to something bigger.

    Designed for privacy, right. But I thought privacy was the government's job in the first place. They should be the first to ensure no one, should actually get their hands on our private data. I see you mentioned possible affiliations of some of the models of corporate giants like you know who, with terrorist affiliations. well, how can we be sure those who will buy our data, now since the bill has transformed into a law, won't be served under the table by terrorist organizations? Tim Berners-Lee feels it's a bit unethical to seek alternatives but what can a guy do, other than seek third party alternatives and vpns and other anti-tracking tools when the authorities themselves are bent on compromising it?

    Last edited 11/04/17 1:12 am

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