Revised Broadband Privacy Regulations and eCommerce

Revised Broadband Privacy Regulations and eCommerce

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Amid the back and forth regarding the recent repeal of internet privacy rules, one key fact went overlooked; ecommerce sites, as well as Google and Facebook already have the ability to share potentially sensitive data about their users. The difference is Internet Service Providers (ISP) like AT&T, Comcast, Time-Warner Cable and Verizon now have the freedom to do so as well. Ultimately, when it comes to the revised broadband privacy regulations and ecommerce, these changes mean ecommerce enterprises will have a more clearly defined customer to which advertisements can be targeted.

Google and Facebook have unique selling propositions for advertisers in that they know more about their users than any other sites on the Net. Google tracks searches and serves up targeted ads based upon your search history. Meanwhile, consumers tell Facebook about nearly every aspect of their lives—although it must be said most of the site’s users probably think they’re only sharing information with friends and acquaintances.

While ISP representatives currently say they have very little interest in profiting from this capability, it’s hard to envision a for-profit company ignoring such a huge revenue stream. After all, Google and Facebook make billions each year selling consumer’s information. That’s a very tempting market, so it’s a pretty safe bet we’ll start seeing more advertisements directly related to our browser histories based upon data provided by ISPs. For e-commerce websites, this means advertising dollars can be more specifically targeted than ever before.

Here’s something consumers need to know about the internet. Whenever a website provides a service that appears to be free—whether it’s information, entertainment, or whatever—that site’s product is probably them. In most cases, they’re selling user’s browsing information to advertisers to more closely target ads to their indicated interests. 

With this repeal of privacy regulations, ISPs now have the capability of creating revenue streams based upon this practice as well. The controversy surrounding this development stems from the fact that users have a choice about visiting sites like Google and Facebook. But consumers only have a single choice about using an internet service provider—which one they choose to use.

Think of it this way; when you drive your car to a destination, you have a choice about the businesses you patronize along the way. But, you have no choice about the road you use to get out of your neighborhood. Your driveway empties onto a street and you have to drive on it. Now, imagine that street has the ability to record your every destination, how long you spend there, what you do while you’re there and it also the capability of reporting everything back to a central entity.

ISPs can do that with internet traffic. However, unlike Google and Facebook—which you can choose to use or avoid—your internet service provider takes you to your destination, regardless of where it may be and you have little choice in the matter. You have to use one.

Within all of this, it should be noted, just as with Google and Facebook, users do have the right to opt-out of having their histories mined in this manner. Those concerned about the privacy of their data should make it a point to read their ISP’s privacy policy and opt-out of data sharing if they can. There are also a number of virtual private networks consumers can use to cloak their data. Still, it’s a pretty safe bet most people will simply click agree without bothering to read the policy at all.

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