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Column: Current bill to sell Americans’ web history is attack on privacy

The proposed bill would give internet service providers the ability to sell your web history.

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March 17, 2017

The opinions expressed by The Maneater columnists do not represent the opinions of The Maneater editorial board.

Hunter Gilbert is a freshman data journalism major at MU. He is an opinion columnist who writes about rights and tech for The Maneater.

Data, especially one’s own internet searches or general history, are things that people expect not to be shared. Little do many Americans know, a lot of their information, whether it be from website add-ons or like trends on Facebook, can all be used and sold to advertisers, focus groups and even the government.

The information you put out on the web can be harvested then personalized by people or firms. Some people have found incredibly clever ways to make a profit off of it. Gathered information normally comes from customers, items like names and addresses. Even your purchases can be used to predict trends. In our digital age, information is almost as valuable as money itself.

A new GOP bill intends to let internet service providers, also known as ISPs, such as Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, sell your web history. This is absolutely unacceptable and a direct attack on Americans’ privacy.

I will be honest, I don’t have anything in my web history that is disturbing, odd or out of the ordinary from any other American. But the idea behind this bill just seems like an affront to user privacy. This is nothing more than lobbyists attempting to make a quick buck off of the populace of our nation.

Advertisers are like leeches when it comes to information: They suck user data dry in attempts to further their own profit margins. Everything about you — age, gender, medical history, political leaning, you get where I am going with this — can more than likely be revealed via your search history and the metadata paired with it.

One can argue that no agency or organization should have access to your web history, let alone one that wants to make profits off said information. This bill allows ISPs to sell your information to whoever they believe is a “trusted partner.” Google already makes money off searches. Yet you can argue this is the fee you pay for using their service for free. If I am paying to use an ISP’s access to the internet, I expect my own information and metadata to be strictly shared between solely myself and the ISP, not an unknown third party. This bill would not only reveal your searches and web history, but by extension how long you are on a webpage, how fast you scroll through it, among other data. We are not just talking about searches. This is arguably your entire online footprint via your ISP.

This is a ludicrous amount of information. This information could be incredibly compromising to an individual. It must not be for sale.

I for one am sick of the government chipping away at Americans privacy. We saw both Republicans and Democrats allow for the National Security Agency program PRISM to exist. We have seen bipartisan support that existed for SOPA as well. Privacy in our modern age should be an inherent right. Instead, we are dealing with politicians who want to sell away our rights so others can profit.

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