Editorials

For sale: your digital privacy

The Charlotte Observer editorial board

You’ve certainly heard by now – and we hope you’ve told your kids – that you should consider anything you do online to be permanently out there for people to see.

It’s a good rule to follow, even if there’s some uncertainty to how true it actually is. But last week, at least, the probability of your digital life being a public commodity just got greater.

On Friday, President Trump was poised to sign legislation that would roll back FCC rules that keep internet service providers from selling your personal information, including the web sites you visit. Those rules currently require cable and phone providers to obtain a customer’s consent before using or selling information to build profiles for the purpose of selling digital ads.

That should be troubling to anyone who taps at a keyboard. Our devices, from desktops to tablets to phones, contain a digital record of our lives. We should guard that information fiercely, and we should expect that personal information that goes over a network is our property, not an internet service provider’s.

That standard has long been used with simple telephone calls, which the FCC also regulates. In 2016, the Obama administration decided that principle also should apply to the digital information, including some health and financial matters, that a consumer transmits when using the internet.

That makes sense. If the phone company can’t sell the fact that you’ve called a real estate broker and might be looking for a home, why should internet providers be able to sell that same information transmitted over a different kind of network?

They shouldn’t. It’s yet another example of Republicans in Congress – and the president – deciding that the thing most worth protecting is the bottom line of businesses.

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