By Robert Hackett
March 25, 2017

There has been much hand-wringing this week over the United States Senate’s Thursday vote to reverse so-called broadband privacy rules adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in the fall. Some of the concerns are overblown, and some are legitimate.

Among the misleading bits: When one reads that Internet Service Providers, like AT&T, Charter, Comcast, and, Verizon, are going to gain the ability to share your browsing history and other private information without first seeking customer approval, one might get the impression that all of your search engine and other website queries—video-streaming habits, medical self-diagnoses, and sexual proclivities, perhaps—are headed straight from your ISP to a big data broker, like Acxiom or Experian. This isn’t so.

Today, much of the web is encrypted. More than half of the Internet traffic between people and websites is protected by HTTPS, an encrypted data-transferring protocol that prevents third parties, like snoops, spies, or ISPs, from eavesdropping, according to Mozilla, makers of the Firefox web browser. ISPs have little insight into what you’re doing on an encrypted network. Sure, an ISP would be able to see the destination, whether that’s “Netflix, WebMD, or PornHub,” as the Washington Post put it, but beyond that it would often be blind.

If the Republican-dominated House votes to revoke the FCC rules this week and President Donald Trump grants his blessing to the move, all hope is not lost for those who cherish their privacy. Virtual private networks, or VPNs, allow people to keep their Internet providers in the dark. These services create encrypted tunnels between web browsers and VPN computer servers, preventing ISPs from seeing which websites a person may be accessing.

Generally, consent and disclosure seem like good rules to have in place. People should be granted some say in how the data generated by their online activities are processed—especially when they involve mobile location history. Even so, companies like Google have already built massive businesses collecting and selling far more intrusive ad-targeting information on their customers. It’s no surprise that ISPs want in on some of the action, too.

Robert Hackett


Welcome to the Cyber Saturday edition of Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily tech newsletter. Fortune reporter Robert Hackett here. You may reach me via Twitter, Cryptocat, Jabber (see OTR fingerprint on my, PGP encrypted email (see public key on my, Wickr, Signal, or however you (securely) prefer. Feedback welcome.


You May Like