This is an essay that I wrote for my Rhetoric course.
When you are using free online services, such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon, do you believe it is okay for them to collect your data so that they can “provide information related to you” to you? You might think that it is okay because you like to see news and items that are relevant to you. Well, what if the free services are selling your data to earn money? You might have some concerns about this, but in the end, you remember that the services are free, so they have to have some ways to earn money. So you agree again. Now, please think about this: is it okay for your broadband providers to sell your data for money? I don’t know how you feel, but I feel angry. Because I already paid them for the internet services, I do not want them to earn money again from my personal data.
On March 26th, 2017, a virtual private network (VPN) company took out a full-page advertisement in The New York Times to draw people’s attention to a new rule H. J. Res. 86. The new rule would dismantle a previous bill called “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services.” This means that after the new policy is implemented, broadband providers can sell user’s data about their online activities to third-party companies who are willing to pay, without permission from users.
Some people may argue that this issue does not matter because internet companies also collect and sell user data. The Data Policy Page from Facebook does show that they gather information related to user activities and share the data with third-party integrations and advertisement companies. However, there are some differences between the ways that broadband providers and internet companies collect and share data. The internet companies can only grab data from their websites or services while the broadband providers can find data from all the user activities, no matter which sites or services they are using. As for sharing data, the internet companies will try to omit information that can be used to identify users while the broadband providers might not care about that.
If the new policy H. J. Res. 86 came out, the differences between the ways that the two types of companies collect and share information might lead to some problems. If third-party companies could get data from broadband companies about all the websites and servers related to a user, they could create a model of the user. They, however, would not be able to do this if they only got data from internet companies because the data is not sufficient. For example, if you did not post your bank information on Facebook (and most people would not do that), Facebook would not be able to know which bank you were using. However, your broadband companies would know that as soon as you visited your bank website (and most people had to visit their bank websites frequently). If the companies could create a model of users’ life with more details, they would be able to guess what the users want next and began to recommend more products that are related to the users. For example, if a woman visited a couple of websites about how to take care of the baby, the companies might guess that the lady was pregnant and began to recommend pregnant women supplies to her. Some people might feel okay with those recommendations. But what if the woman was just curious, or she did not want others to know she was pregnant? She might feel annoying when she received much information related to pregnancy. Also, if the broadband providers did not omit information that can be used to identify users, the advertising companies might be able to contact users directly instead of just showing advertisements on the website, which would bother users. Another situation is that politicians could use data that they collected to mislead people. President election is a good example. If a presidential candidate could collect data about voters and find out that voters who were identified as lived in Iowa State often search Herky the Hawk, the presidential candidate might mention Herky during their presentation to get people’s attention and get more vetoes. Base on those reasons, to protect our privacy, I believe that broadband companies should not share or sell users’ data.
Some people may argue again that this issue does not matter because we have known that broadband providers collect data related to us even if they do not sell the data. It is true that they always collect our data. A Subscriber Privacy Notice from Mediacom indicates that when you use their internet service, they will gather information from you, such as when and how you use the internet, which device you are using, what kinds of applications you are using, and what data the applications have. However, they are not allowed to share or sell the data to third-party companies without users’ permission. They can only use the data for their own research. In the same document from Mediacom, they indicate that they may not disclose the information without users’ consent.
Now if the previous bill were canceled, they would be able to sell the data easily, which means more companies would have access to your data. As a result, there would be more ways to leak your information to the public since more companies had your data, and some of the companies do not pay attention to data security. A good example is the Equifax Breach where the consumer credit reporting agency, Equifax, leaked more than 143 million consumers’ sensitive information, include but not limited to people’s names, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and driver’s license numbers. Anyone could use that information to apply for credit cards or loans under the name of others. Although broadband companies may not collect sensitive information like credit card numbers and Social Security numbers, they may gather some other information such as lifestyles and habits. It would still create trouble for users if that information leaks to the public. For example, people do not want others to see their diaries or nudes on the internet. As a result, I believe that broadband companies should not share or sell users’ data.
If you already realized the consequence of letting broadband providers sell information, it’s time to discuss what we can do. Since this case has not been passed, there are a couple of things people can do to prevent this happen. First, we should pay attention to the news and let more families and friends know this case. When I talked with my friends about this issue, I found that not many people heard it before. Some of them even did not know there were companies who were collecting their information every day. If people did not know this problem, no one would care about it except broadband companies. As a result, it would be easier to pass the case before people realize it. And next, we should vote against the bill. As the advertisement said, people should call their house representatives and ask them to vote against the bill. Since the house representatives are supposed to represent their people, they might follow people’s opinion if there were enough people talk to them about the case H. J. Res. 86. Also, there are some websites people can use to check if their information has been leaked, such as https://www.equifaxsecurity2017.com/ and https://haveibeenpwned.com/.