Last week, the US Senate voted to overturn rules preventing internet service providers from selling user's web browsing data without opt-in permissions. The controversial vote was a major win for ISPs who were arguing that the new regulations could stifle their ability to compete in the burgeoning digital advertising marketplace.
Back in October 2016, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), under a Democratic leadership, approved a set new of privacy rules requiring ISPs get opt-in consent from customers before sharing or selling private data with third-parties.
At the time, the then FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement: "Based on the extensive feedback we've received, I am proposing new rules to provide consumers increased choice, transparency and security online."
Industry and ISP lobby groups reacted strongly against the FCC's proposed regulations, arguing they placed unfair standards on ISPs when other companies like Facebook or Google are allowed to operate under different, more broader rules.
Although the 2016 regulations had not taken effect yet, the current US Senate invoked the rarely used Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overrule last year's resolution. The CRA power also prohibits any similar regulation being reissued in the future.
As we head towards a future with more connected devices dominating our lives, the repeal of these new regulations is somewhat concerning. While ISPs argue that they should have similar freedom to compete in data-driven advertising markets with sites like Facebook and Google, it is very evident that they have access to a much more significant trove of data.
From our increasingly connected cars to our digital home assistants, the customer data that runs through an ISP can be used to create personal profiles with unprecedented levels of detail.
There are easy tools that can be acquired to block the ad-tracking of Google and Facebook, or users can simply choose not to use those services. ISP level tracking, on the other hand, is much more comprehensive, and challenging for the everyday-user to avoid.
Utilizing a VPN or Tor are the only strong ways to avoid your ISP tracking your internet use. Even then, the user requires trust in their VPN source, while Tor is often regarded as solely the domain of tech-savvy users.
Looking for a VPN? Don't miss our guide to the best VPNs in 2017
Moving forward, the only thing completely clear is that it will be up to consumers to secure their private data themselves. With governmental regulations becoming less transparent and more lenient, it's up to us to become more proactive in protecting our personal information.