You may or may not know that in addition to your phone or your web browser tracking your every move that your Internet Service Provider (ISP) does as well. Naturally, they use the data themselves to sell ads or they sell it to others who do so on their behalf.
Last June, the good legislators of Maine passed a bill that prohibits the practice. It’s not revolutionary. Until the current administration took office in 2017, there were Federal regulations that prohibited it as well. To make up for this, in June 2019, Maine Governor Janet Mills signed a law designed to prevent ISPs from “the use, sale, or distribution of a customer’s personal information by internet providers without the express consent of the customer.” The law had bipartisan support and passed the state senate unanimously.
Broadband carriers are suing to block a Maine privacy bill that requires Internet service providers to obtain consumers’ opt-in consent before drawing on their web activity for ad targeting.
“Protecting customer privacy is a laudable objective that ISPs support,” the major broadband industry organizations write in a complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Maine. “But Maine has not shown — through evidence in the legislative record — that ISPs’ privacy practices are causing any harm whatsoever to consumers.”
Here is where I come out on this and it’s something that might just apply to your business as well. First, privacy is going to become THE issue over the next couple of years as more people become aware of just how ubiquitous tracking is in their lives. There was a frightening report in the Times a couple of weeks ago that detailed just how much information was being collected. Does it seem unreasonable that some folks would like to take back a modicum of control? WE need to respect people’s wishes, or at least make a cogent argument about why they should let us have their data in return for the services we’re providing. I’d gladly give my ISP data if they’d cut the price of my internet service in half. But at least ask me for permission to track me and make me aware of what you’re collecting and why.
Second, ISP’s make an insane amount of money selling broadband access. Don’t buy their stuff about how much they invest in infrastructure – it’s trivial. Do they really need to sell ads on top of this? I’m a capitalist but I’m also a customer-advocate. Know when to say when people. When you’re already drunk on cash from your basic business, maybe it’s time to step away from the bar when you’re starting to treat your customers as a commodity.
When you’re suing to overturn this law, you’re suing your customers, plain and simple. Do any of you believe that having all of your personal data out there for anyone to purchase and use (and it’s out there) isn’t causing harm as the ISP’s allege? It’s a similar situation to the growth of ad blockers – the limit of consumers’ tolerance was hit and suddenly they revolted. This might be a good time to buy stock in VPN companies and the ones that still make dumb phones – text only, minimal tracking. We’ll see, won’t we? But I know for sure that suing and otherwise abusing your customers is a bad idea for any of us.