Privacy has been a top-of-mind issue in the United States for the past couple of weeks. Last Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted to repeal privacy rules (pdf) passed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last year. The vote was close, 215-205, but it appears likely that the President will soon sign the resolution into law. Once that happens, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will not have to obtain opt-in approval from their customers to share information about their online activities (like their browsing history and geo-location data).
At the Internet Society, we believe privacy is key to reinforcing user trust on the Internet, and that ISPs must act as trusted stewards of their customers’ data. ISPs are more than just a connection to the Internet. Their service enables users to browse the Web, do online banking, pay their bills, communicate with friends, access sensitive health information, and so on; all things that most people would regard as personal and private. Consumers therefore rightly expect their ISP to take the privacy of their information seriously. In our opinion, ISPs should respect and protect users’ privacy, irrespective of the existence of rules or legislation mandating them to do so. Internet users should not have to opt-in to privacy; the starting point for any organization that collects personal data on its customers should be ‘to do no harm’.
In fact, good privacy practices should be the norm across all Internet companies that an Internet-user comes in contact with – not just at the ISP level but at the application level as well (search engines, social media, advertising, and online shopping providers and a host of others). The FCC’s privacy rules did not include these application providers, yet they often collect a tremendous amount of data on their customers and, in our view, should abide by high standards when it comes to protecting end-user privacy.
All data collectors have responsibilities to uphold end-user privacy and be transparent in how data is being collected and used. By taking a proactive approach to data collection and handling, companies across the Internet ecosystem can help ensure that their customers have trust in their online communications and transactions. The Internet Society would like to see all Internet-related companies and organizations adopt this approach. That trust is a critical factor in growing the digital economy and in enhancing the quality of life for all citizens around the globe.
There are also a number of things you can do to protect your privacy online. Check out our Top 10 tips to help protect yourself online and Your digital footprint matters to learn how to protect yourself online. And, consider encrypting your online communications for an extra layer of protection.