Net neutrality advocates everywhere were pleased with the recent decision by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to strengthen the support for net neutrality by making internet broadband connections a telecommunications service as defined by the FCC. Although freedom access pundits are claiming this is a major victory for users and consumers of the internet everywhere, another faction is also claiming it as another victory for privacy rights of broadband users.
What is Net Neutrality?
Essentially, net neutrality is what is already in place in most western countries; free, unfettered and equal access to all types of communications via the web. Whether you are a single mobile user, a small business or a large consumer of data on the web, current providers do not block, treat differently, throttle or charge for different speeds of delivery of that content. What large cable companies and telecommunication companies like Verizon and Comcast want is to be able to develop a tiered system where they can charge customers different prices based on the speed of the broadband, as well as being able to block certain high bandwidth content such as videos on Netflix.
With the FCC making the internet and broadband a public communication utility service, it essentially guarantees that it remains unblocked, for now at least. Congress, the judicial system or even future FCC boards can change the current decision and reverse the current situation. So how does this affect your privacy?
Net Neutrality and Your Privacy
Previous to this decision, internet service and broadband providers were not considered common carriers, whereas telephone communications were. The difference is quite a sweeping change to previous rules regarding your ability to surf the web in privacy. Before the current changes, your internet service provider was subject to Section 222 of the Communications Act, because it was not classified as a public communications service.
Now that it has been classified as such, cable companies, internet service providers and telephone companies providing broadband access on their phones are all now required to meet a different level of consumer privacy, read more about this here. This section in the Act requires communication companies to protect consumers’ proprietary information. This not only refers to the type of service provided and its technical aspects, but also any information that is made available to the carrier by the consumer as a result of this relationship.
On a traditional phone, this was simply limited to keeping your conversations and phone calls private including who you called and the nature of the content of the call. With applying the rule to internet usage there are broader implications. Now these providers can no longer get away with selling your usage data to third parties without your consent. They will need to protect every aspect of your relationship with the carrier including the content you consume, how it is consumed which includes websites visited, videos watched and searches made.
The FCC is also a federal body that enforces privacy on a broader scope than the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which was previously responsible for consumer privacy with respect to internet use. With the FCC there are already very strict regulations concerning telecommunications and these can be easily applied directly to internet usage now that all internet service providers are considered common carriers, the same as telephone companies.
Although Net Neutrality was a huge win for a consumer’s right to devour online content, it is even a larger win for privacy advocates.