KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
Your internet provider knows a lot about you, like everything you do and share online. And to marketers, that is really valuable information. Back in October, a rule was created saying essentially if your internet provider wants to sell your personal details they need your permission. Well, this rule hasn't even gone into effect yet and now it looks like it'll be thrown out. Congress has sent President Trump a bill to get rid of it. To understand what this means, we reached out to journalist Manoush Zomorodi, who has been following this closely.
MANOUSH ZOMORODI, BYLINE: I mean, I think it's a total win for the telecom companies and this idea of turning the internet into something that is treated solely like a business for profit as opposed to a utility, like our electricity or even our phone lines or our water. I think we're kind of at a moment in the government where we're deciding as a society also - what is the internet? What role does it play in our lives?
MCEVERS: So basically, internet providers want to be on the same playing field as, say, Facebook and Google, which obviously already have our information. I mean, I just bought a dress the other day online and now it seems like everywhere I go there are ads trying to get me to buy more dresses.
ZOMORODI: Right. Yeah. But I would say, Kelly, the difference is that you pay for your internet connection, right? You pay for your internet connection so you can then get on Google and look for your dress. Google watches that you're looking for a dress. They sell off that information. And then you see an ad for that same dress follow you around. If that bothered you, you could say, you know what? I'm going to use a different browser that doesn't track me.
But you can't change who's giving you the internet, or if you do it's a huge hassle. And you probably don't have a lot of choice, right? We know that the telecommunications industry has been really consolidated. There's not a lot of competition there. And so you don't have to use Facebook when you go online, but you do need to use your internet connection.
MCEVERS: Is there going to be a way to say, hey, internet provider - hey, Comcast, AT&T, Verizon - I don't want my information sold? Can - I want to opt out.
ZOMORODI: Well, it's interesting. So AT&T, for a period a couple of years ago, it charged some of its internet customers extra unless they opted into a system that let them collect information so they could deliver personalized ads. So we've yet to see how this deregulation will sort of be turned into, like, what it looks like on our bill essentially. But for now if you decide, you know, I don't want to be tracked, you can use something called a virtual private network, VPN. And what this does is it puts a layer between you and what you're doing online and your internet provider. But honestly, the most trusted ones cost money. This is yet another hassle.
You know, I think of it like the telephone. Nobody can listen in on your calls. That is illegal. Well, what if I said to you, actually, they can listen in on your calls, so you should buy something that distorts your voice? You'd say, no way, I'm not doing that. It's - I need a phone. I talk on the phone. It's what I do. Well, now what do we do? We browse online. And yet the internet is not being regulated, at least in this administration, like a utility. It is seen as another business and an industry that is a growth opportunity for the economy.
MCEVERS: Manoush Zomorodi is the host of WNYC's tech podcast, "Note To Self." Thanks so much.
ZOMORODI: Thank you, Kelly.
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