The further undermining of online privacy

Republicans in both houses of congress have passed a bill that will allow internet service providers (i.e., the businesses that act as the gateway to each person’s access to the internet) to market all the data that they can get about your online activities without your permission. The dominant players are AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon. Donald Trump will of course sign the bill, making it law.

But hey, hadn’t we already given up much of our privacy? Not quite. Glenn Greenwald explains why this legislation is a major escalation in violations of privacy.

It’s hard to overstate what a blow to individual privacy this is. Unlike Silicon Valley giants like Facebook and Google – which can track and sell only those activities of yours which you engage in while using their specific service – ISPs can track everything you do online. “These companies carry all of your Internet traffic and can examine each packet in detail to build up a profile on you,” explained two experts from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Worse, it is not particularly difficult to avoid using specific services (such as Facebook) that are known to undermine privacy, but consumers often have very few choices for ISPs; it’s a virtual monopoly.

He argues that while earlier violations of privacy by organizations like the NSA were justified by saying that they were part of the ‘war on terror’ and were designed to ‘keep us safe’, however weak those justifications were, this one has no such rationale and thus exposes the true nature of government’s subservience to industry lobbyists.

That’s why, despite its devastating harm for individual privacy, there is a beneficial aspect to this episode. It illustrates – for those who haven’t yet realized it – who actually dominates Congress and owns its members: the corporate donor class.

There is literally no constituency in favor of this bill other than these telecom giants. It’d be surprising if even a single voter who cast their ballot for Trump or a GOP Congress even thought about, let alone favored, rescission of privacy-protecting rules for ISPs. So blatant is the corporate-donor servitude here that there’s no pretext even available for pretending this benefits ordinary citizens. It’s a bill written exclusively by and for a small number of corporate giants exclusively for their commercial benefit at the expense of everyone else.

THIS RECOGNITION – of who owns and controls Congress – is absolutely fundamental to understanding any U.S. political issue. And it does – or at least should – transcend both partisan and ideological allegiance because it prevails in both parties.

This, of course, is the “swamp” that Trump vowed to “drain,” the oozing corruption of both parties that he endlessly denounced (just as Obama did before him in 2008). If Trump signs this bill, as expected, perhaps it will open more eyes about how Washington really works, who really controls it, for whose benefit it functions, and the serious difficulty of changing it even when you elect politicians who swear over and over that they oppose it all.

Sam Biddle tried and failed to get the broadband lobby to answer some simple questions about what this legislation would do.

Congress doesn’t even bother to hide its subservience to corporations anymore.


  1. Some Old Programmer says

    I would think (/hope!) there has to be a VPN tunneling service where you can use your ISP to establish an encrypted connection to an endpoint from which you can leave your ISP ignorant of what you’re doing. This may become more popular given that it’s inevitable that advertising will get shoved at us when our ISP’s data meets the filter criteria for an advertiser.

  2. says

    Some Old Programmer@#1:
    There are services like that -- Protonmail in Switzerland, and Opera in Norway both offer such services. They have the advantage that your traffic appears to be coming from a different country (why do you think there are so many “Russian” hackers, anyway?) If you care about your privacy, you should probably use such a service -- while you can. If you’re not familiar with what the Chinese do to edge networks: that’s probably where the US is heading, but it’ll be corporate ‘reasons’ -- not national ones. They’ll serve eachother, of course, since the interests of the nation and the interests of the large corporations, well, they’re the same thing, right?

  3. John Morales says

    Marcus, “there is no further privacy to undermine. We passed that point some time ago.”
    mnb0, “I wasn’t aware that any online privacy was left to undermine.”

    But that was obvious even in the days of usenet and IRC.

    (Difference is, these days it’s practicable)

  4. Smokey says

    For those of us looking for a good VPN service, the best place to start is “That One Privacy Site”:
    Reddit is also a good source of information:

    Opera is a free alternative but they log a lot of your traffic. For the very paranoid, also look up “Warrant Canary” and “Fourteen Eyes”. Even if you use a VPN, your browser can be uniquely identified:

  5. says

    I’ve just queued up a piece about this that’s dropping this afternoon over at stderr. It turns out that Verizon’s going to push down a tracking app onto customer phones. You’ll agree under its terms of service that they can collect whatever they want, so *poof* there goes the head of your VPN connection.

    Doctorow thinks this is about advertising. It is, but he’s not looking at the picture from a high enough altitude:

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