A Spooky October for Online Privacy


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halloween-logoIt’s been a spooky October for online privacy. Much is happening this October in online privacy and the FCC and Google are providing lots of news related to how consumer privacy is – or isn’t – protected. 

Spooky October for Online Privacy

To start, the FCC voted to constrain ISP’s abilities to resell consumers online browsing behavior data.  Since these ISPS (like Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon) provide the pipes nearly everyone in the US uses to surf online, it seems a reasonable assumption they own a unique treasure-trove of data about consumer browsing.  The Washington Post covers the ruling in dramatic fashion with triumphant statements:

“With Thursday’s vote, the FCC is seeking to bring Internet providers’ conduct in line with that of traditional telephone companies that have historically obeyed strict prohibitions on the unauthorized use or sale of call data.”

“It’s the consumers’ information,” said Wheeler, a former cable industry lobbyist who shepherded the rules through a deeply divided FCC. “How it is used should be the consumers’ choice, not the choice of some corporate algorithm.”

While conceivably somewhat more important as big ISP’s merge to become integrated media companies with their own ad networks (e.g. Verizon + Yahoo!), the reality is this mandate from the FCC will not really constrain the collection or use of consumers browsing data.  This data is still for sale in real-time by other companies and it is getting far more detailed and easy for advertisers and others to use, no matter what the FCC thinks, claims, or does.

2000px-us-fcc-altlogo-svgThe US News weighs in with an editorial claiming the FCC is needlessly regulating an industry segment the FTC is already doing a ‘good job’ regulating:

“The Federal Trade Commission has been successfully protecting consumer privacy online for years.”  – Roslyn Layton

The audacity to make this claim and the claims of the FCC ruling being a big step in protecting consumer privacy online is both Trumpian and Clintonian in its absolute ignorance of what is happening in digital media with consumer data.  For example, as Julia Angwin reports about the company that controls over 50% of online advertising, Alphabet Inc. (e.g. Google) has recently given up any pretense about anonymity in advertising:

“The practical result of the change is that the DoubleClick advertisements that follow people around on the Web may now be customized to them based on your name and other information Google knows about you. It also means that Google could now, if it wished to, build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit, and the searches they conduct.

The move is a sea change for Google and a further blow to the online ad industry’s longstanding contention that Web tracking is mostly anonymous. In recent years, Facebook, offline data brokers, and others have increasingly sought to combine their troves of Web tracking data with people’s real names. But, until this summer, Google held the line.”

This alone is far bigger infringement on default consumer online privacy than anything mandated by either the FCC or FTC.  All the data gathered out there during browsing, emailing, advertising, shopping is now openly connected to your identity and the databases that your identity plays connector between including:

  • Offline databases
  • Online databases
  • Mobile phone databases
  • Financial databasesblur-logo

It’s open season on connecting identity and data.  Facebook eat your heart out.

Now, as Conor Friedersdorf suggests in his article in The Atlantic, perhaps creating “fake data” about us is the only viable future for consumer privacy – because the data is going to be out there anyway no matter the regulations.  We agree.

Abine – and our millions of consumer users – have been living in that future for a while.  Blur users generate unique Masked Data that stays in their control even after it is used by companies.  This kind of “tokenization of data” is the future of online privacy, security and identity protection.  All it takes is 30 seconds to install Blur in your browser and on your phone to join them and experience it for yourself.


The above post was written by Abine, Inc. CEO, Rob Shavell. Follow Rob on Twitter @robshavell.

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