Does Congress’s Net Neutrality Repeal Threaten Trust in Big Data?

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December 22, 2017
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In 2015, President Barack Obama signed a net neutrality bill. This bill served to protect consumers by:

  • Preventing Internet service providers from charging discriminatory fees to different customers.
  • Keeping ISPs from restricting access to certain content.
  • Protecting consumers from having their privacy invaded by ISPs and other large corporations.

These protections were repealed on December 14, 2017. This has stirred a new discussion on the future of the Internet. Fewer pundits have talked about the implications for big data, which is an equally important concern.

How will repealing net neutrality protections affect national and global trust in big data? Here are some potential pitfalls.

Censorship Could Cripple Key Sources of Big Data

Now that ISPs can legally bar customers from certain sites, they may try to discourage users from visiting high bandwith websites. Affected websites could include social networking sites where people spend lots of time and video streaming sites that consume terabytes of bandwidth every day. While it is unlikely that ISPs will bar or discourage customers from using the most popular sites like Facebook and YouTube, they may bar them from smaller networks such as Dailymotion or newer social networks.

Of course, ISPs don’t have to specifically target these web portals to discourage people from using them. If they start imposing bandwidth limits on these services, people may use them less frequently.

What are the consequences for big data? If people are less likely to use these services, these sites will have less data on their users, which can be an inconvenience for advertisers. The advertisers could be less trusting of the solutions.

This won’t be an issue with services such as iPage hosting. However, companies that offer a broader range of ISP services could severely curtail their offerings.

Customers Will Be Less Open About Sharing their Data

Before recent net neutrality laws were repealed, ISPs could still sell data on their customers. However, they needed to satisfy one of the following conditions:

  • Receiving explicit consent from them.
  • Anonymizing the data so their partners couldn’t determine the user’s actual identity.

These protections are no longer in effect. Jacob Kastrenakes of The Verge states that this puts customer privacy on sale to the highest bidder.

“This is an increasingly important issue as Americans spend more and more time online — and keep more and more devices with them at all times. Internet providers can see what sites you visit and what apps you use, and they can see how long you’re using them for. That information is extremely revealing, and it’s easy to imagine most people would prefer to keep their reading habits private,” Kastrenakes writes.

Representative Anna Eshoo, a California Democrat that opposed the repeal of net neutrality, warned that this could have far reaching effects. Eshoo stated that companies can sell data with impunity.

This could lead to customers avoiding certain platforms altogether, which threatens the future of big data.

Fake Data Could Be Propagated for the Sake of Privacy

Customers are already very distrustful of brands having access to their data. Their fears will probably be pushed into overdrive now that ISPs will have more leeway to sell their data to other corporations.

Customers will probably look for a number of ways to deal with this concern. These include:

  • Using VPNs, Tor and other anonymizing solutions to hide their true online identities.
  • Avoiding using their personal computer or only using public Wi-Fi networks to access content.
  • Providing fake information on major websites.

The first consequences will limit the amount of big data in the ecosystem. However, the last problem can be particularly problematic. If customers provide fake information to secure their privacy, the integrity of big data will be seriously compromised.

This would require brands to do a more thorough job establishing the validity of their data by vetting against other known data sources. But what if customers are very consistent with altering the integrity of their big data footprints? This can lead stakeholders that depend on this data astray.

Repealing Net Neutrality May Have Compromised the Integrity of Big Data

The Internet is the biggest source of big data. Repealing net neutrality is a mistake that could have seriously jeopardized the integrity of it.

The real situation probably isn’t as alarmist as this post may have suggested. It wasn’t my intention to claim that big data is going to be irreparably destroyed. However, the integrity of big data will be compromised, so companies that rely on it will need to take it with a grain of salt.

Big data stakeholders will need to do everything in their power to vet data and ensure its validity. They may also need to look for alternative data sources.