Saturday, April 08, 2017

Net neutrality under seige in wake of Trump's internet bill

source: The Willits News
 April 7, 2017

Have you ever logged on to a website and been surprised that the ads were targeted to suit your needs? Perhaps the first time you experienced the phenomenon of targeted advertising you wondered how it was the web programmers knew of your predilection for Nike sneakers or your secret love of Grease the musical? You were either horrified at the prospect of your web privacy being invaded or marveled at the technical wizardry behind the technology. Whatever your reaction, get ready for the next phase.

In a recent 50-48 vote, the U.S. Senate approved to do away with Federal Communications Commission rules established last fall blocking internet service providers such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T from selling private communications to advertisers eager to get their hands on consumers’ Google search history without their authorization.

The Los Angeles Times and other media outlets reported earlier this week President Donald Trump signed a bill allowing internet Service Providers (ISPs) to track and sell users’ data.

According to The New York Times, GOP lawmakers and new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said privacy rules hampered telecommunications carriers, opening the door for further deregulation and allowing the federal government to strike against net neutrality rules. Net neutrality refers to requirements that broadband providers should enable access to all content and internet applications without playing favorites to specific websites.

As pointed out by Forbes, Wired and other technology and business publications, the future of net neutrality could be jeopardized as regulatory rollbacks that would allow the sale of users’ private data to corporate tech interests become the order of the day. What’s worse, the potential abuse of internet ownership by means of censoring or biasing content for financial gain could be predicted by Trump’s selection of Pai to take over as chairman of the FCC in January. People could read the writing on the smart board.

It’s no secret that Pai, a former attorney for Verizon, has been a vocal critic of net neutrality rules and his views seem to align with an administration which berates the media and has sworn to break up what Trump called “media conglomerate oligopolies” while on the stump last fall.

That’s not to say net neutrality is not an important concept for business, or that business should not play any part in people’s internet usage. As pointed out by the non-partisan Free Press, an organization fighting to save the free internet, the ability of small businesses and startups depends on an open internet to foster economic growth and encourages more diversity and creativity. The internet has always been a marketplace of ideas, although lobbyists have been attempting to impose government regulations to for several years in attempts to maximize the profits of a select few.

Free internet protection advocates argue that the open internet is also important for racial and social justice campaigns. The loss of a free internet could have the damaging effect of demarginalizing people of color by potentially taking away platforms for free expression on the web. We are not there yet and there are those who undoubtedly would categorize these ideas as hyperbole, but the potential is a real concern.

Regardless of their ideological stance, at the very least people should be leery of ISPs having the ability to exploit their browser history, thereby acquiring access to their consumer choices and internet searches. Currently there are malware and malicious programs designed to hijack search engine queries and by now the majority of web users have experienced the frustration of being rerouted to a website or advertising page without their consent. Advertisers will not have to rely solely on these surreptitious tactics and harmful software programs if the federal government moves toward ending what an L.A. Times editorial called “The equal opportunity internet.”

Once we go down the slippery slope of rolling back rules established during the previous administration espousing internet consumer protections in favor of increased profits, we face the real danger of going back to square one when it comes to user privacy and the establishment of a fair and equal internet for everybody.
Ariel Carmona Jr is the city editor for The Willits News. He can be reached by email at or by phone at (707) 841-2123.

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