Luke Schroeder, Columnist

My smartphone, nearing two years of age, is starting to degrade in usability. It constantly overheats, applications open sluggishly and, most annoyingly, battery life has eroded to almost nothing. Naturally, I have begun to research my options for replacement. A few days ago, I did a simple Google search for comparisons of the newest offerings from Apple and Samsung. Since then, I have been bombarded with advertisements from both brands; they appear on nearly every webpage I visit.

Most of you have probably noticed similar activity on your own computers; your advertisements mostly reflect products you have researched in the past. Google, using our search histories, knows what products we are interested in buying. They take full advantage of their knowledge by selling our information to advertisers. We all seem to believe Google is free to use, but this is simply not the case. We pay dearly with our privacy.

Statista indicates that Google raked in $79.38 billion in advertising revenue in 2016 alone. Facebook, another company heavily revenue-dependent on advertisements, collected $26.89 billion in advertisement revenue during the same year. Obviously, this business strategy of targeted advertisement is very lucrative for Google, Facebook and companies like them; this strategy is here to stay.

Alarmingly, this privacy infringement is growing.

In the waning days of the Obama administration, the FCC passed new privacy rules limiting the ability of internet service providers to sell your browsing data without your consent. However, with the Congressional Review Act (which permits Congress to eliminate newly passed regulations), both the House and the Senate have recently voted to repeal the rule. According to signals from the White House, President Trump is expected to approve the repeal. 

Congressman Warren Davidson (R-OH), who represents Oxford’s congressional district, voted against the repeal of the privacy protections. In a statement he said, “At the end of the day, it’s your data…I don’t see how it could be anyone else’s.”

Davidson’s position is spot-on. He rightfully believes that internet service providers have no right profiting from our data without our consent. In a separate statement, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said, “Your broadband provider knows deeply personal information about you and your family – where you are, what you want to know, every site you visit, and more…You deserve to be able to insist that those…details be kept private and secure.” It’s not often that conservative Republicans agree with the likes of Nancy Pelosi. Clearly, this is an issue that people of all political stripes should agree on; privacy of all Americans should be protected.

You may be wondering, if Google and Facebook already take my data anyway, why should I worry about internet service providers having it too? Good question. There are a couple very simple differences here: You are not paying a monetary fee to use Google and Facebook (who instead rely on advertisements for revenue), but you are paying to receive internet service. Users of free websites can safely assume they are ‘paying’ with their privacy data. However, consumers typically don’t assume their service provider has the right to dole out their private data. In effect, internet service providers are additionally profiting from already paying customers without their consent. This is not right. Second, Google and Facebook (and other similar sites) can only collect your data when you are using their sites. Internet service providers can collect all your internet data.

If you like slippery slope arguments, this paragraph is for you. In his book “1984,” George Orwell imagined a government with the power to see and hear everything. In Orwell’s fictional world, citizens live in constant fear of their government’s judgement. If anyone steps out of line, in any imaginable way, they are eliminated. Considering the modern public’s general disregard for privacy in our internet age, this possibility doesn’t seem so farfetched. Every incremental chip away at our privacy, by governments, service providers or anyone else, means less liberty and freedom for you and me. One day in the future, if trends continue, we could live our lives with no privacy at all.

Here is the bottom line: privacy in today’s internet age is nearly impossible. Support lawmakers that believe in privacy rights and encourage others to reconsider their positions. We can win the fight to preserve our privacy, but Democrats, Republicans and independents must all unify on this issue and fight together.

schroelm@ miamioh.edu

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