Three things to know: Your browser history for sale by ISPs

Posted at 12:22 PM, Apr 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-05 12:57:41-04

It's official, your browser history can be sold by ISP's to advertisers. While a bill introduced in New York could roll back that law in the state, we don't know when, or if, that could happen.

So what does this mean for your privacy online? Here's three things to know:


1. Actually, not much has changed.

That's because Federal Communication Commission (FCC) rules that would have prevented your browsing history from being sold had never gone into effect. The rules were passed last October, and would have gone into effect in December of 2017. 

The bill simply prevents that rule from going into effect, and keeps the FCC from trying to pass similar rules in the future.


2. Several companies say they have no plans to sell your browser history...but there's a bit of a catch

According to tech blog Ars Technica, Comcast, AT&T and Verizon have been quick to come out to praise their own internal rules, but the details are in the fine print.

Comcast, for example, says they won't sell your browsing data to other ad companies, but they don't need to; they operate their own ad network.

Verizon also says they won't sell your private history, but they will use your history to sell personalized advertising -- which is in a lot of ways a difference without a distinction.

Most ISP companies do offer a way to opt-out of targeted ads.


3. Your internet history is already being tracked and used to target ads to you

Even if your ISP doesn't sell your browsing history, and you opt-out with your ISPs, that doesn't mean your internet history isn't being tracked. Facebook, Google, and many more major companies target ads through the use of "cookies" that sites generate when you go to them.

Have you ever seen an Amazon ad for an item you searched for just minutes earlier? That's from your "cookies."

There are ways to block these as well -- except that cookies are also used to make browsing easier, doing things like marking pages you've visited, and saving user names for easier logins, among many others.

In the end, it's almost impossible to remain completely anonymous on the internet.