A few weeks ago, the Senate approved a resolution that effectively put an end to vital internet-privacy rules created by the Federal Communications Commission.
Within the last week or so, Congress voted in favor. Now the resolution heads to the White House and will be undoubtedly signed by the president. Americans’ privacy rights have just been sacrificed to the benefit of corporate profits.
In 2017, the internet is an essential part of our lives and simply does not belong to the government or large corporations — it belongs to the people. The openness and integrity of the internet is what is at stake here — and that openness is precisely what has fueled prosperity in our personal lives but also in business, government, and education as well.
But how does this really affect you?
To break it down, this reversal of restrictions allows internet providers to monitor their subscribers’ use of the internet and sell that information to marketing companies that stand to profit from it. Selling user data creates a major threat to consumer privacy and to the relationship between carriers and their subscribers.
Information about what you do on the internet is, and should remain, private. Under no circumstances should this information be sold for the profit of large corporations.
Those who favor this reversal argue this is no different than the way free services like Google search and Facebook share your personal data in exchange for use of their service.
But this is a false analogy. When you choose to use a website or application, you are knowingly allowing your data to be shared. This is, after all, how these free services make money. Your internet carriers — a service that you pay for — should not be allowed to make an additional profit off of your private usage.
Internet service providers, or ISPs, have exclusive access to everything consumers do online — every site you visit, every choice you make to move between sites and the full array of apps and services you use. Service providers know where all traffic comes from and goes to, giving them access to a tremendous amount of consumer information.
And here’s the kicker
One of the hallmarks of today’s internet market, which makes this ruling especially damaging, is the lack of competitors.
Competition in business is good for consumers. It breeds competitive pricing and makes it impossible for service providers to become complacent and rest on their laurels, encouraging them to continue to come up with new offerings and remain an attractive choice for consumers.
In contrast, oligopoly hinders competition — and most Americans have only one or two big national, federally-subsidized carriers to choose from. With more alternatives, service providers who did not sell private information, such as Sonic, would be preferred.
It would naturally follow that providers would be less likely to sell information to remain competitive. It’s the nature of an oligopoly that is the real issue — everything else is merely a symptom.
Sonic, Ting, Google Fiber and a few others notwithstanding, consumers in America simply do not have enough competitive choices in the internet-service market, which makes the regulation of privacy as well as net neutrality even more crucial.
So what now?
We are at a critical tipping point in the future of the internet and the protection of consumers’ rights. While the White House will almost certainly sign and approve the resolution, we — as both consumers and responsible providers — have a responsibility to make our voices heard and stand up for our rights to privacy.
Dane Jasper, CEO and co-founder of Santa Rosa-based Sonic (sonic.com), started the company in 1994. Sonic has received a perfect six-point privacy score from the Electronic Frontier Foundation since that group’s inception. Sonic is the largest independent internet service provider in California, serving consumers as well as businesses such as Lagunitas, Amy’s Kitchen, Uber, the Golden State Warriors and the Raiders.