There are many dimensions to our digital worlds. We buy everything online. We entertain ourselves with endless piles of digital content. We communicate and socialize with friends and colleagues. We’re all digital, all the time. But what we do, what we buy, who we visit and what we think is now on sale.
Have we thought carefully enough about this? Is everyone OK with selling browsing histories? I’d sure like to know which sites my friends, colleagues and enemies visit. Wouldn’t you? I’m sure that retailers would love to know what I do online. Many of them already do, of course, but we’re about to tell them more about me – and you – than anyone – except them – really wants to know.
Several recent events should make us re-think our digital rights and privileges. The debate about net neutrality, which I’ve discussed before, is important here, especially given the recent decision by the United States Congress to allow Internet Service Providers to collect and sell browser data. When I asked my students if they were aware of the proposed changes to the law, they were surprised to learn that their surfing habits could now be collected and sold, though they all already know about cyber stalking when they search for Spring break deals. They immediately started to hypothesize where browsing histories could be exposed with varying results, such as what might happen if their parents knew everything they did online, or if the sites that politicians or their staffs visited were posted on social media. Or how insurance companies might leverage browsing histories to set rates. It didn’t take them long to identify lots of weird scenarios. While most of these scenarios are unrealistic, some may well occur if the new regulations are sloppily interpreted.
The proponents of net neutrality rollbacks argue that tiered rate schedules will fund infrastructure innovation. The supporters of anti-privacy legislation argue that there’s little distinction between media companies (like Facebook) and ISPs, and both should have the right to collect and sell data that reflects the behavior of their customers. These are the business arguments. Are there other arguments we might want to consider?
Read more at Forbes here.