“Your internet provider has a view of your most intimate online activities. Although Google uses encryption to prevent prying eyes from seeing your online searches, your internet provider can see what websites you visit, when you visit them, and how much time you spend there.”
On Thursday, March 23 the US Senate voted 50-48 in favor of rolling back an important broadband privacy protection measure passed by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) last fall. The Obama-era measure was established to safeguard the sensitive data of internet consumers. What does that mean for small businesses?
It means that the Senate has said it’s “okay” for internet service providers (ISPs) like AT&T, Comcast & Xfinity to collect, store, and sell a person’s web history and activities to third party buyers without their consent. Many believe this would be a violation of personal privacy.
It means that potentially sensitive data—such as race, age, sex, location, health and financial information, and even full names and affiliations—may be up for grabs to the highest bidder.
Why does this matter to small businesses?
When IPSs sell information, it doesn’t come cheap. This is still speculation, but it’s likely that bigger companies will be purchasing this kind of information ahead of smaller ones. Ostensibly, that gives the big guys an edge that the little guys aren’t likely to gain for a while. We’ve all played Monopoly, right? It’s always a bummer when one person owns all the properties on the board.
In February, Entrepreneur.com wrote that the idea of rolling back FCC privacy protections and opening up the internet to all tiers of business “seems incredibly similar to an old mob tactic where business owners have to pay the mob in order to operate a store in ‘mob territory.'” Because smaller businesses that operate online rely heavily on website visits for sales, this roll back has the potential to be deeply painful for any operation with fewer resources for advertising and marketing. Without an even playing field, small businesses could be looking at darker times.
However, the true implications of the roll back remain to be seen.
What you can do
If you feel this rollback is unjust, there is still time to stop it, as it’s not yet reached the floor of The House, so calling and emailing representatives is a good idea. Getting educated on internet privacy and this administration’s attempt to undermine it is also a very good idea. We recommend following and frequently checking in with the Electric Frontier Foundation (EFF), a nonprofit internet privacy watchdog. You can also sign this electronic petition.
Any way you do it, now’s the time to get involved and keep the playing field even for small businesses and keep your own personal information private.