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What Are the Data Privacy Implications of the FCC ISP Data Collection Congressional Vote?

By Bret Piatt
Aug 25, 2017

Internet Data Privacy

Who is collecting my personal data and how?

More recent headline grabbing news about data privacy drove me to write this post. The news covered Congress voting on legislation to eliminate some FCC rules introduced in 2016 at the end of the prior administration. TechCrunch, ArsTechnica, The Washington Post, and many more publications covered it in detail.

I’m going to cover the background story of who can really see what you’re doing on the Internet today and how.

Internet Data Collection 101

In this first post of the series I’m going to go through and provide definitions of the key components required to understand data collection at a basic level. Future posts will cover the details of each category of company involved and what type of data they can and do collect.

Internet Technology Terms

  1. Last-mile network connection – The portion of your internet connection between the internet and your home, office, or mobile device. This connection could be your DSL, cable modem, or 3G/4G cellular data circuit.

  2. DNS (Domain Name Servers) – The technology that turns the names you type in a browser bar, or the links you click made up of words into the numbers computers use to talk to each other. Think of this as the phone book of the internet.

  3. Tracking Cookies – A specific type of HTTP cookie used to help website operators uniquely identify visitors.

  4. Tracking pixel – A 1x1 image inserted into emails, web pages, or anything else users render in HTML while connected to the internet. They are a form of web beacon

  5. Internet backbone – The portion of an internet connection where sessions and data transit between destinations.

  6. Metadata – The high level contextual information about an internet session including fields such as source, destination, protocol, application type, and many more.

Company Categories

  1. Internet Service Provider (ISP) – Provider of fixed line (DSL, cable, fiber) internet access.

  2. Mobile Phone Operator – Provider of cellular phone service which now almost always includes internet data access as well.

  3. Tier 1 Network Provider – Operator of the main core of the internet backbone.

  4. Internet Exchange Point – Data center where internet backbone connections are made between ISPs and backbone network providers.

  5. Content Delivery Network (CDN) – Service used by internet applications to cache and deliver site content quickly to users.

  6. Website Operator (aka. Hosting Provider) – Infrastucture business who runs servers used to power internet web based applications.

  7. Website Owner – This is a broad category that includes most businesses worldwide today (ex. Jungle Disk is a Website Owner of www.jungledisk.com]).

  8. DNS Registrar – Business who sells domain names and often operates the domain name servers assocaited with the domains they sell.

Online Data Collection & Data Privacy is Complicated

While the FCC ruling created a media storm the information ISPs will now be allowed to gather is already being collected and sold by other busineses in the internet ecosystem. The ruling is not creating a net new loss of consumer privacy. It does have the impact to shift who profits from collecting your information. My next post will dive in and detail the types of information being collected and which companies in the categories above have access to it.