Should you be Concerned about FCC Internet Privacy Being Gone with Trump?
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Airing date: 04/11/2017
Should you be Concerned about FCC Internet Privacy Being Gone with Trump?
Craig Peterson: It’s time for another TechSanity check. Craig Peterson here. We’re going to talk today about all of the angst in the media about the Republican Congress getting rid of Chairman Wheeler’s FCC privacy rules. What does it mean? Why would he have done that? Kind of what’s the bottom line on this? Did they do something evil? Was it another evil move by the Trump administration? Stick around. That’s what we’re talking about today.
Well obviously, I don’t think it was necessarily an evil move. So let’s talk about the FCC. First of all, they’re operating under law from 1934 that regulates our communications and it was set up and designed for the old copper lines where you’re making a phone call from one place to another. Today we’re using the Internet. In fact, most of the time our phone calls are actually going over the Internet. If you’re on your cell phone, Comcast, for instance, is running their fiber over to these cell towers and is hauling your data back to the provider, like Verizon or AT&T, whoever might be. Now it’s not the open Internet but it’s the same protocols. It’s the same basic thing. So if I’m trying to route a phone call from where I’m at right now in Phoenix all the way over to Manchester, New Hampshire, how do I do that? Lineal days of switching systems would literally set up a physical circuit way back when, 1934, absolutely dead and there is probably an operator involved. So you had those old stepping switches that would go kong kong kong kong kong kong kong and you would end up with one, essentially, one wire going from your phone to the phone on the other side. Now it went through a whole bunch of switching offices and switches and things but essentially it was one wire and that’s how the system was set up back in the day. Today, when you’re making a phone call or you’re visiting a website, your data is broken down into the very basics of Internet packets. So it’s obviously is digitized first and then those packets are sent. And you may think that it’s always sent the same way. I don’t know.
Have you ever used Waze before? W-A-Z-E? It’s a piece of software, it’s an app that runs on your smart phone, your tablet, etc. And it’s very, very smart about where there are delays. So if you’re going to go from, try from Phoenix up to Boston for instance, it’s going to have a look at that. It’s going to look at the activity that’s on it right now. It’s going to say wow you know this is out 10 minutes ahead so I’m going to reroute you because 10 minutes ahead of us is a car accident. And so Waze will get you off and you go on the side streets. I’ve had that happen to me so many times driving from Boston down to New York City. And you’re going down the freeway and all of a sudden Waze says take the next exit. And you know, so you always know you’re cutting across three lanes of traffic to get off the exit. You’re driving through some residential area and you look over to the freeway and sure enough the whole freeway’s stopped up. It’s all backed up. And so what Waze is trying to do is get rid of some of that congestion on the freeways. Now, we don’t have time to talk today about how some of the neighborhoods are upset that Waze is routing people through their little quiet neighborhood. That’s a different issue entirely.
But Waze is trying to optimize your route and the same thing’s true for every single packet on the Internet. So if your voice is, for instance, digitized on your cell phone. It goes to the tower. It is then run through multiple switches in the phone company’s network which is a, you know, type of an Internet I suppose. You could classify it that way. But it’s now routed through that whole network that they have and reaches the other side. And it’s designed for redundancy so if they lose a cable, they lose a central office, no problem. It reroutes it and everything is all good.
Well the same is true when you’re going onto the web. So you’re on a website and let’s say you’re playing a videogame. This is a great example. In fact, I’ve got an article from The Verge that I’m putting a link to in my show notes here, so you can go to the show notes and see that. But what they’re talking about is you’re playing a videogame that connects you to a server in Vancouver, British Columbia. It’s 3 AM. Well, obviously, you want your data to be fast. You want your data to be efficient in order to be effective in winning your game right? You know, that’s kind of the bottom line here. Well, your internet service provider is running what’s called a Border Gateway Protocol, BGP. And that protocol is then used by all of these major interconnect points on the Interne. And some that aren’t so major. For instance, we have our own autonomous system number and we set it up for a few of our clients so they can have redundant entry points into the networks and things, right? But these main routers, if you will, on the backbone all know the shortest way to get to some other place. And in fact, in some cases they know the shortest ways to get to anywhere on the Internet which is just crazy. That’s a crazy amount of data.
So you are playing your game. A packet’s created by your software. It’s sent off to Vancouver, BC. So let’s say right now your packet starts there in Boston and it goes, probably, down to New York City. May go to New Jersey and then it’s going to take kind of a long haul. It’ll end up in Chicago. It’ll end up in Vancouver eventually. And that roadway that it’s taking gets congested. So someone else is watching Netflix, a lot of Netflix, which by the way right now is about the number one traffic generator out there on the Internet. It’s crazy. Good for Netflix. So all that data, by the way, that brings up another issue that people are complaining about. But all of that date is now traveling on the Internet and the routers need to know what kind of data it is? What kind of flow can they expect from you? And then they’re going to route it to the appropriate place. And they react in real time. If part of the Internet goes down, they run around it. Remember the internet was designed to withstand a nuclear attack, right? So it will route your data all kinds of different ways. And you know there’s encryption that sits on top of it. It’s just all kinds of things.
Well the ISPs, the internet service providers, can see where you’re going. And in some cases, and this drives me batty, some internet service providers will look at your friends as your Google results. They will, let’s say you’re trying to go somewhere and that site doesn’t exist and they’ll send you to their page. They will insert ads into pages you’re visiting. They’ll insert ads into Google’s search results. So they’re already manipulating some of your data. They’re already tracking some of your data. And you have to track it frankly in order to make the internet work, bottom line here. And the FCC rules were saying that your ISP can’t share your data with anyone. That’s just, I’m oversimplifying a little bit but that’s the bottom line. And so people were all happy and isn’t that wonderful and I am glad they can’t share my data. Well the data they’re sharing is data that’s being used for marketing purposes typically. So they know you spend the whole day on that game server in Vancouver and that’s useful to a marketer. And frankly, you know what, it’s useful to you. Do you want to see ads if you’re playing games online and you’re 30 years old? Do you want to see ads for the AARP, you know, retirement stuff. Of course you don’t. You want to see ads that are relevant to you and you want to keep your costs lower and your costs are lower because they sell ads. They can make a profit on this thing right? And what does a profit mean? Profit means people have jobs. A profit means they pay dividends. And a profit means that if you have stocks, and by the way if you have a 401(k) and IRA Keough, any sort of investments in the stock market which is where they are people, you want dividends to be paid by companies. That’s where the money comes from. I think it’s simple. But some people just have the hardest time understanding this whole thing.
So what happened is, the bottom line, Congress shot down the FCC’s internet privacy rules. So there’s a bit of confusion over what people can expect when it comes to online privacy. But here’s your bottom line everybody, if you want privacy, use SSL. Go to websites that only have HTTPS. Now it’s interesting that Google in their search results is starting to penalize websites that are not encrypted. So over time here, over the next little while, frankly, there will be more and more sites encrypted and some of these sites are using free encryption keys. And I think that makes a whole lot of sense because it’s just is not worth it to pay 200 bucks or more a year per site for many small businesses and community organizations right? So you’ll see more of that. Sometimes you’ll see it says hey listen, this key isn’t recognized. It’s not signed by an authority I recognize. That doesn’t mean that it’s insecure. Doesn’t mean that the site’s been compromised or the NSA is watching. But try and use encrypted sites. You might want to use VPNs if you’re really concerned about it. But the bottom line is they’re not listening in. They cannot listen in your conversations. That is still illegal. They cannot turn on the camera on your laptop. That’s still illegal. They can’t turn the microphone on your iPhone without your permission. That’s still illegal as well. And all of the major carriers, all of the major internet services providers have said we are not going to be selling your information.
You can check if you want. There’s opt out options available for Comcast, Charter, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint. By the way, Verizon and Sprint actually require customers to opt in to targeted advertising. How’s that for the right attitude? Now you see how the free market works? If Comcast, Charter, AT&T and T-Mobile decide that they’re gonna be selling your information and you don’t like it and you don’t like the marketing that’s going on, what are you going to do? You’re going to move to Verizon and Sprint. You’re not going to pass regulations in the FCC that are going to tie the hands for innovation that currently they are doing in many of these ISPs. And you’re not going to have these regulations from the FCC that tie the hands of these providers, these ISPs that say hey, listen. You can’t have any other sources of revenue so you’re going to have to raise your monthly fees. I don’t think that makes sense either.
Anyways little bit of TechSanity here. It’s all over the place. I did a Google News search for, here’s the terms I used: FCC privacy and Trump and oh my. Totally inundated. People just saying this is just terrible. Trump’s repealed the FCC’s internet privacy rule. Which isn’t true. This came through Congress. Rest in peace Internet privacy rules, that’s CNN Money. The other one was the LA Times. CNBC, Trump signs repeal of US broadband privacy rules. At least that part is true. He did sign it. It came from Congress. So there’s a whole lot. Here’s USA Today, Trespassing on Internet privacy. Trespassing on our privacy. Yeah, USA Today. And Fortune Magazine, What really happens when the FCC’s online privacy rules are removed. So you’ll find a lot if you want to go online but that’s just my opinion here. A little bit of TechSanity.
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Tom Wheeler, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), was recently replaced
We’re going to talk today about all of the angst in the media about the Republican Congress getting rid of Chairman Wheeler’s FCC privacy rules. What does it mean? Why would he have done that? Kind of what’s the bottom line on this? Did they do something evil? Was it another evil move by the Trump administration?
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