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Big Tech or ISPs: Who Collects and Monetizes Your Online Data (Much) More?

June 15, 2020

The coin of the Internet realm – is your digital data. Everything you do is tracked and monetized.

The coin of the Internet realm – is your digital data.

Online: Everything you do, everything for which you search, everything you read, everyone with whom you interact,… – ALL of it is data fodder for online companies.

To wildly varying degrees.

By “online companies” – we mostly mean the Internet Service Providers (ISPs)…and Big Tech “Edge Providers.”

ISPs – and their market caps:

Verizon ($230 billion)

AT&T ($215 billion)

Big Tech – and their market caps:

Google ($954 billion)

Facebook ($651 billion)

As you can see, Google and Facebook are MUCH larger than are the nation’s two largest ISPs.

Uber-huge Google and Facebook – are built nigh entirely upon collecting our data…and selling access to it.

ISPs collect an infinitesimal fraction of the data Big Tech companies like Google and Facebook do.  To overly-simplistically explain how and why:

ISPs know you go to www.Website.com.  That’s it.  They lead you to the Web’s front doors – and drop you off.

The likes of Google and Facebook – follow you in.  Everywhere you go.  And observe everything you do.

They have set-up all sorts Web data-catching webs – to capture oh-so-much-more data than the ISPs.  (As but one example: Google purchases all the data Microsoft’s Bing search engine collects.  So if you thought you were end-running Google by using Bing.…)

Google and Facebook know you went to Website.com.  And they know nigh EVERYTHING you did on that website.

They see every page you open.  They see every word you read.  They see every picture at which you look.  They see every video you watch.

They follow you up and down each and every digital aisle on every retail site.  They see every item you purchase.  They see every item at which you look – but don’t purchase.

(Which is how and why Google and Facebook immediately pop-in ads for products at which you just looked – and ISPs can not.)

Oh: And if you use products like Google’s Gmail and Facebook’s Messenger…guess what?…

Start adding up the hundreds or thousands of sites each of us visit every day – and EVERYTHING else you do online – and you see how huge the data collection chasm is between ISPs and Big Tech.

ISPs see the website addresses.  Big Tech sees EVERYTHING.

Gordon Sumner presciently and inadvertently wrote Big Tech’s theme song – more than a decade before the Internet as we know it was born:

Every breath you take and every move you make

Every bond you break, every step you take, I’ll be watching you

Every single day and every word you say

Every game you play, every night you stay, I’ll be watching you….

Meanwhile, our mostly feckless United States Congress – has been our mostly feckless United States Congress.

A quarter-century of private sector Internet later – and Congress STILL has yet to pass a data privacy law to address all of this.

And make no mistake – it is the US Congress’ job to do so.

It is a WORLD Wide Web.  Which means the federal government must set US Internet policy – and then negotiate our network interactions with the planet’s other nations.

To have a patchwork quilt of state and municipal privacy laws – is a nightmare mess.  For anyone trying to comply with them – and for the Feds trying to ensure our Internet works with everyone else’s.

But governments abhor a vacuum.  What the Feds haven’t done – the states have foolishly rushed to do.

And because Big Tech is so much larger than are the ISPs – they throw their much more prodigious lobbying weight around.  And get state privacy bills that are WAY slanted in their favor – and against the ISPs.

Again: Big Tech is getting big crony favoritism over ISPs in privacy law – even though they collect WAY more data than do the ISPs.

Big Tech wants this – because anyone collecting any data…no matter how comparatively little…is a competitor to Big Tech’s data collection business model.  So having government crush their ISP competition for them – is mighty helpful.

Some state privacy bills are so crony-ed up – they apply ONLY to ISPs.  Leaving entirely alone the MUCH-more-massive data-grabbing Big Tech companies.

Which is, of course, ridiculously absurd.

What we need – is what we have needed for now a quarter century.

A simple, federal privacy law.  That establishes reasonable privacy protections for We the Data Providers – and reasonable requirements for the data collectors.

And does ALL of these things – equally.  To and for everyone.

And of course, a federal law for the WORLD Wide Web should and would erase all state and local privacy laws.  Per the Constitution – and federalism rightly defined.

As we said, our Congress has been MOSTLY feckless.

South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune has had just such a privacy bill – and it’s bipartisan – for more than a little while.

It would be great if Congress would actually pass it.

[Originally posted at RedState]

Article Tags
InfoTech & Telecom
Author
Seton Motley is the president of Less Government, a DC-based non-profit organization dedicated to reducing the power of government and protecting the First Amendment from governmental assault.
smotley@lessgovernment.org @SetonMotley

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