Internet service providers (ISPs) have access to some of your most personal information like every website you visit, the times you log into and out of your accounts, and even some location data. And, because the federal government has failed to put privacy protections in place, ISPs can sell that private information to third parties, like advertisers, without your permission.
The personal information ISPs collect and share is increasingly being used by advertisers to discriminate against certain communities. Advertisers and data brokers are using data to decide what prices to advertise to someone, the content they should steer them to, and even the types of loans to offer them.
LD 946 (sponsored by Sen. Shenna Bellows, D-Kennebec) will require ISPs that do business in Maine to get our permission before selling our private information to the highest bidder, putting necessary protections in place.
Yet some corporate interest groups in Maine are waging battle against LD 946, spreading misleading information about this bill in an effort to defeat it. They say they care about your privacy, but what they really care about is protecting their profits.
Let’s break down some of their arguments:
Myth: They say LD 946 isn’t necessary because ISPs aren’t actually selling consumer data. That is FALSE.
Fact: Some local internet providers, like GWI, are not selling consumer data – and they support this bill. But last year, ATT and TMobile (two of the national companies that are sending thousands of dollars to Maine to oppose this bill) were caught selling the real time tracking data of customers to bounty hunters.
Myth: Opponents of LD 946 say the bill doesn’t go far enough because it only includes ISPs, not Facebook and Google and the like.
Fact: Believe it or not, ISPs have access to more information about you than browsers and social media sites. Google and Facebook only see what you do on Google and Facebook. Your internet provider sees everything you do online. Even if the website you’re visiting is encrypted, your ISP can still see the website name, how frequently you visit the website, and how long you’re there for. And, because you are a paying customer, your ISP knows your social security number, full legal name, address, and bank account information. Linking all that information can reveal a lot about you – for example, if you are visiting a religious website or a support site for people with a particular illness.
Additionally, you can choose not to use Google and Facebook (and in the wake of privacy breaches, many people have). On the other hand, you can’t avoid ISPs if you want to use the internet. And most Mainers, especially in rural areas, do not have a choice of provider.
Finally, Google and Facebook don’t cost money; we trade our personal data to use them. But we pay ISPs – a lot – to access the internet. The ISPs that oppose LD 946 want to profit off your personal data on top of what you pay them. Imagine the phone company listening to your calls and selling personal information about you to third parties – it’s like that.
In other words, don’t believe the hype from corporate interests whose main goal is growing their profits. LD 946 may not fix every privacy problem, but it’s a strong start.