President Donald J. Trump signed a bill April 3 that repealed online privacy rules set by the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) laws.
The FCC rules were adopted last October and would have been enacted this December. These rules would have banned internet service providers (ISP) from selling their users’ information without their permission.
Trump’s repeal opens the possibility for ISPs to collect and sell user data — including browsing history — to advertisers. ISPs don’t have to get explicit consent from users to get sensitive information, including people’s location, financial information and email content, according to The Washington Post.
Although online websites such as Facebook or Google collect user data, people can avoid monitoring by using different search engines or sites. With ISPs, it’s not as easy to switch from one to another.
Loyola’s Information Security Officer Jim Pardonek and Network Manager at Information and Technology Services Dave Wieczorek said in an email to The PHOENIX that students might see more targeted ads based off their internet activity, but some web browsers and social media sites already do this.
Using the “LUC,” “LUC-Devices” or “LUC-Guest” Wi-Fi networks protects online activity, but security measures are taken by the websites students visit, according to Pardonek and Wieczorek. University websites, such as Sakai, protect online data, but using other websites doesn’t guarantee privacy or security for students, according to Pardonek and Wieczorek. Pardonek said browsing histories are stored on local computers and possibly servers of websites students connect with.
Some internet companies commented on the ruling. Verizon, AT&T and Comcast released statements claiming their commitment to consumer privacy. The statements say the companies have not and will not sell customer data without permission from consumers.
Some tech websites, such as TechCrunch and The Daily Dot, advised people to use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to protect their online data, but others, such as WIRED and Engadget, warned against it. VPNs create a secure connection between a computer and a private server preventing ISPs from seeing your data, according to The Verge. But, VPNs can restrict access to sites such as Netflix and have the potential to slow down connection speeds, according to WIRED.
Information Systems professor Nenad Jukić said he doesn’t think many people will adopt VPNs.
“VPN is mostly used for business people that want to use their own computer when they travel,” said Jukić. “I don’t think it’s a practical mechanism for the general population because that still means you need access to some other server. People are not going to do it. [An] insignificant fraction of people will do it.”
Pardonek and Wieczorek said students can still take precautions to be secure online.
“Take care about what sites you visit,” stated Pardonek and Wieczorek. “Be careful what you download and make sure that if you are purchasing from an ecommerce site, you research the seller to make sure they are legitimate.”
Junior biology major Nick Bulthius said he understands that his browsing activity is tracked for advertisements.
“I recognize that the process isn’t private, said the 20-year-old. “In that way it can be a little creepy, but I understand it.”
Sophomore sociology and women and gender studies double major Ashley Wells said she is worried about the possibilities this opens up in the future.
“I think it’s going to affect [students] more in the long term because how dangerous of a precedence it can set,” said the 19-year-old. “It sets the precedence of, ‘Oh, we don’t need to tell you if we’re selling your information.’ That precedence of not telling you what is happening with your history [and] with your information … is a dangerous precedent.”
The PHOENIX reached out to The White House’s press page for comment, but did not receive a comment.