Internet Consumer Privacy:
Beyond the Dome, You’re the Product

When you leave the FCC’s dome of protection online, it is up to you to protect your privacy.

The FCC has been busy; essentially creating an Internet Consumer Privacy Dome:

A Bit of Irony

No matter what ISPs do to provide Internet security and consumer privacy when you leave the FCC’s dome of protection and access the free and open Internet – which the FCC guaranteed your ability to do — you’re on your own.  Protecting your privacy, to the degree that you can, is totally up to you.

The Internet Beyond the Dome

In the quarter ending on September 30, 2016, the US government reported that e-commerce accounted for 8.4% of all retail sales for the quarter, and has more than doubled since 2009.

Recent estimates show that the average adult spends more than 20 hours per week on the Internet – including work time – and that 90% of all adults use the Internet.  That is up from 60% in 2005.

We all use social media to some degree, even if it’s merely to keep up with what our kids are doing – assuming they don’t ‘unfriend’ us.

In general, we have all become dependent on the Internet for everything from entertainment, to shopping, to education, to the ever-increasing Internet of Things. Most of us are particularly excited for all the free stuff on the Internet; we play games, we Skype, we read the news and get recipes – all for free!

But is it really free?  Maybe not,  Consider the mantra:

If It’s Free, You’re the Product

Let’s say you are of the 10% who doesn’t use the Internet.  You visit brick and mortar stores to research products and ultimately purchase them.  You correspond with family and friends by written letter and snail mail; on the telephone, or in person.  You get information from books at the library.

Now imagine that while you’re shopping, visiting or talking with family, or looking up some disease that you think you may have, that there is a person next to you recording everything:

  • What you shopped for
  • What you purchased
  • What credit card you paid with, AND the number and expiration date
  • Who you spoke to or wrote to
  • What you said and when
  • What disease you looked up
  • When and how often you do all of the above

Obviously, that would be very unnerving, and might even be considered illegal spying or harassment.  This is exactly what happens with every move you make on the Internet.  This data helps Yahoo, Google, Amazon, and others “personalize your user experience”; based on your on-line habits.  In English, they know you so well that they can offer other businesses hyper-targeted advertising and make lots of money doing it.

You — or your buying habits — are the real product “free” services sell.

As far as Internet security is concerned, we’ve talked about proactive ways to protect yourself.  From an Internet privacy perspective, beyond the dome of the FCC, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has oversight.

In April 2016 the FTC welcomed the issuance by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) of new, revised guidelines for protecting consumers in e-commerce.  The guidelines are designed to strengthen consumers’ trust in the expanding electronic marketplace.  The FTC also offers OnGuard Online with consumer tips.

Although it might be breaking the law for a person to physically stalk you, record your every move, and then sell the information, we were unable to find a law prohibiting the same activity on the Internet.  So, take care beyond on the Internet when you pass beyond your ISP’s network.

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