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shutterstock_629349683Legislation recently signed by the President repeals rules created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would have required internet service providers (ISPs), such as Comcast, Charter, and Verizon, to receive permission before collecting your data.

Proponents of the bill say the FCC’s definition of privacy was too broad and that a consumer’s browsing history or app usage is not sensitive information, therefore it did not need to be protected.

Opponents of the bill argue that, unlike websites or search engines (Facebook and Google, for example), consumers have significantly fewer options when it comes to an internet service provider and therefore cannot choose to avoid ISP’s with privacy policies that they don’t like.

Regardless of what side you take, the issue raises real concerns about how much information consumers have about their online privacy. For instance, while you are online shopping, watching YouTube videos, or researching a topic, any number of entities could be collecting your personal and general information. The information can then be used or sold for marketing, research, or other purposes. It is why we are always advising consumers to read privacy policies and know how information is being used.

How You Can Respond to Online Tracking:

  • Remove existing cookies and prevent cookies from being placed on your computer by using the “tools” settings in your browser. Removing and disabling cookies will limit the amount of information that is collected about you. This function can also generally be found under web browsing settings on your smartphone.
  • Read privacy policies/terms of use and look for “opt-out” clauses. Some websites require you to notify them if you don’t want your information shared.
  • Limit your use of apps that require multiple permissions.

The privacy policies of most ISP’s are available online. We’ve collected privacy policies from three of the larger companies. If you have internet access from a different provider, follow up with the company and ask for a copy of its privacy policy:

 

In Massachusetts, the issue of tracking and consumer privacy made the news just last week when the Attorney General settled with a local advertising company that was using geofencing to send anti-abortion ads to persons using smartphones within a set radius of an abortion clinic. Geofencing is a technology that, using GPS, enables advertisers to target ads to consumers who visit a certain location. While the practice is legal, the Attorney General argued that using medical information to target ads is a violation of Massachusetts consumer protection laws. Read more about the settlement here.

Legislation has also been proposed at the state level that would require ISPs to obtain permission before using or selling their customers’ data. Consumers interested in the legislation should contact their local state representative or senator for more information.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for all Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws, data breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Program and the state’s Do Not Call Registry.

 

 

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