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Privacy Overturned: Your Browser History Could Be Sold

  • Calvin Wolf
  • Mar 28, 2017 10:46AM

The world is engrossed in watching the drama in Washington over the newly failed Obamacare repeal, President Donald Trump’s accusations of illegal wiretapping by his predecessor, and the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Amid this three-ring circus, you might wonder what could be slipping through the cracks. Unfortunately, it does appear that a lot of “small stuff” is slipping under the radar… but could have huge implications later on.

Weeks ago, the Republican-sponsored bill HR 1313 made it out of committee. Since this health-related bill was not part of the GOP’s Obamacare replacement proposal, and would require no government funding, it generated relatively little attention. However, this bill should alarm all citizens: It would allow your employer to see the results of any DNA tests conducted as part of “workplace wellness” programs… and penalize workers who opted out of such programs by subjecting them to higher health insurance premiums. 

Basically, you have to choose between letting your employer discover that you are predisposed to certain diseases or disorders, possibly jeopardizing your future employment, or maintaining your privacy but paying higher costs for your usual benefits. And, of course, you may also be jeopardizing your future employment by opting out of the workplace wellness program, for your boss may wonder if you are opting out to hide the fact that you have _____________.  It’s lose-lose for American workers.

Perhaps just as alarming as HR 1313 is another Republican bill: Several Senators want to allow Internet service providers (ISPs) to sell your Internet browsing history to third parties. Currently, only websites you visit and use, such as Facebook, can do this. Your ISP, however, collects all the data on where you browse. Trump’s new FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, argues that limits on consumer information sharing by ISPs, but not sites like Facebook, was bad for consumers because it was “confusing.”

To protect citizens from being “confused” about whether or not their data is protected, the GOP has apparently decided to strip out all privacy protections. No more confusion… because none of your data is protected. If this bill passes, anything you type into any Internet browser could be collected by your ISP and sold to marketers.

Some Democrats are decrying the bill because many consumers have no choice of ISP provider; many areas have monopolies in place. These consumers have no option to shop around for an ISP that pledges to protect privacy, assuming that any will. If consumers, especially in rural areas, wish to use the Internet at all, they must be willing to let their data be collected and sold.

It wouldn’t take long for ISPs and marketers to build comprehensive, elaborate, and intimate profiles of all citizens. Everything you enter into your browser, from medical information to queries about personal struggles, could be held against you.  Using today’s tremendous computing power, corporations could develop relatively accurate psychological profiles of individual consumers.  Although Internet users’ information would initially be used to target advertising, where does the slippery slope end?