Allie Schomaker is the marketing manager at Socket. 

 

Earlier this year, Congress passed legislation to prevent new online privacy regulations from going into effect. Those regulations would have required internet service providers, or ISPs, to explicitly gain permission from customers before sharing or selling their personal online information.

The legislation left many confused and concerned — consumers and business owners alike. What exactly was changing? Is my data safe? What about my customers’ data? What can I do to protect private information from being shared or sold?

What’s changing?

In essence, nothing is changing, because the new regulations never went into effect. Some ISPs have been collecting and selling their customers’ online information for years. This legislation just allows them to continue to do so.

Not all providers follow this practice, though. For example, at Socket, we choose not to sell our customers’ private online information.

How can your information be used?

ISPs have access to a wealth of customer information, such as browsing history, location data, and the content of emails. Advertisers can use that data to target customers with specific interests or browsing habits.

Most people already realize that websites like Google and Facebook are collecting information from their users and selling it to advertisers. The practice of ISPs doing the same is concerning to many, however, due to the sheer volume of data they have.

For example, let’s say your office manager is shopping for a new copy machine. She researches options online and starts seeing ads for copy machines as a result. That’s, by today’s standards, normal.

However, it’s possible that your ISP could also see that she’s emailed a few vendors with particular brand names and models. It could also pinpoint the location she’s searching from. If your copy machine also functions as a fax machine that sends faxes via email, your ISP could even determine how often that machine is being used. All of that information is extremely valuable to advertisers, which puts your ISP in a powerful position to sell it.

What can you do? 

Even though nothing has changed in recent months with regards to online privacy, it’s still a good idea to be aware of how your information is being used. As a business, it’s important to consider the privacy of your employees and customers as well.

Here are a few recommendations:

  1. Make sure your systems are secure. If you’re collecting personal information from customers on your website or taking online orders, encryption is critical. This will prevent your ISP from seeing the information submitted. Sites that begin in “https” will reassure your customer that the data they are submitting are secure and private.
  2. Use a VPN. A virtual private network, or VPN, redirects your internet traffic to a private server and encrypts the information you share online. Advise your employees to use a VPN when conducting online business that you want to keep private or secure. However, because your VPN provider will have access to your online activity, be sure to do your research and find a reputable one. Carefully read the terms of service to make sure you understand if and how your information could be shared.
  3. Check privacy policies. Contact your ISP to find out whether they share your online information. It may be possible to opt out of data collection or sharing. It’s also important to realize that other online services have their own practices, regardless of what your ISP is doing. Read and understand the privacy policies of any online services your business is using to better understand if and how your information is being shared.

No matter what type of business you’re in, it’s important to realize that what you’re doing online could have implications for your employees and your customers. They likely trust you to safeguard their private information. Make sure you trust your ISP with that data as well.

 

 

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