There’s no denying that Internet privacy is a thing of the past these days. Do you ever wonder how the shoes you were just looking at on one site suddenly appear in an advertisement on another? Strange, right? Not once you understand what’s going on behind the scenes.

What we do on the web is rarely, if ever, completely confidential. Congress’ recent vote to repeal privacy protection for Internet service providers is only going to continue making your information more public.


Internet service providers will now have the ability to sell consumer information to businesses for advertising purposes. For the marketing industry as a whole, this could be an opportunity to broaden reach and individualize marketing strategies based on what information is available about consumers. It does, however, come at a cost: You could lose the trust of consumers, and, as a result, may actually see a drop in sales.


This can be considered a win for Internet providers. But from an ethical business standpoint, it’s a bit alarming. Displeasing consumers by making them feel like their privacy is being violated is obviously not an ideal business practice. In more remote areas of the country, consumers may only have one choice for their internet provider, and if that provider is one that is selling its customers’ information, they won’t have any other option. Financial literacy professional Melissa Horton sums this conflict up nicely:

The reputation of a business from the surrounding community, other businesses, and individual investors is paramount in determining whether a company is a worthwhile investment. If a company’s reputation is less than perfect based on the perception that it does not operate ethically, investors are less inclined to buy stock or otherwise support its operations.


Amidst all the chaos from this change, it’s important to note that Internet providers who are planning take part in this new policy must offer all current customers the option to opt-out of personal data collection. This is something most people don’t know, nor something many Internet providers do a great deal to make you aware of. Consumers who are looking to keep their privacy even more secure could also use a virtual private network (VPN), a tool to hide your identity on the internet. This ensures that everything you do on the web cannot be traced back to you, and you can rest easy knowing your social security number and address will not be floating around in cyberspace.


Despite this opt-out option, the big question still is: At what point do we value our internet use more than our own personal privacy? If customers can’t trust that the data they put out on the internet will be safe from being collected and sold by their Internet provider, they may discontinue their service, and everyone will be at a disadvantage.

So where do we go from here? How can we please all parties with this new privacy policy? It all starts with respect. Businesses need to recognize where to draw the line when it comes to collecting and selling private data about consumers. In an ideal world, we would all have control over our own privacy and what we wish to share. For now, it’s important to be aware of what is going on and mindful about what you share with the virtual world.

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