What Does ISPs Selling Internet History Mean for Marketing?

In the United States, Congress recently approved a measure that will now allow ISPs to sell their customers’ browsing history.

The decision caused a viral frenzy in which a handful of high profile influencers said they would buy the browsing data of the lawmakers that passed the measure.

To be clear, that isn’t possible, since the law still prohibits selling individually identifiable data.

What actually changed? And what does it mean to marketers?

The New Policy

There’s really no short answer for this. What the FCC mostly does is interpret the Telecom Act of 1934.

That’s right, 1934. That means that the FCC is trying to apply a law from well over 50 years ago to modern data challenges.

The new privacy laws, set forth in the net neutrality decision made in 2015, would have gone into effect by December 4, 2017. They would have required ISPs to get consent before collecting and selling user data. But the Senate invoked the rarely used Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to review regulations they don’t like and prevent an agency from imposing similar ones in the future.

With the passage of this, nothing really changes outwardly for consumers. They will still have their data collected and sold. But now ISPs can push forward in aggressively selling this data. They no longer have to worry about a potential revenue stream being shut off in December. They are basically given full leeway to know everything and anywhere their consumers go online

Websites often use encrypted connections, which is the “https” you’ll usually see in the address bar of most websites. This means that the ISP can only see what website you are on, not the contents of what you were doing on that website. For example, if you visited the HiP blog, your ISP will only see that you have visited a page on our website, not the particular pages you viewed.

This decision has a couple interesting implications for the future of marketing and personalization. Here’s what the future could hold without privacy regulations.

ISPs Build the Perfect Customer Road Map for Marketers

For marketers and advertising, this means that a whole level of data will be available. The entire web history of a consumer is an exceptional tool for marketers to provide the most relevant advertisements possible.

They can know where your favorite grocery store is, that you’re a real hypochondriac (WebMD anyone?), or that you really want to go white water rafting.

For marketers, it’s open season for hyper personalization. Now that impending threat of losing the ability to mine consumers’ data is gone, brands are free to build and use technologies that will utilize the data bought from ISPs. This could include targeting users who searched for a certain term. This could also mean brands use that data to create better SEO and buyer persona profiles.

The new rules allow ISPs to buy and sell anonymized individual consumer data. This means that marketing organizations with deep enough pockets will be able to purchase large volumes of data about consumers, making it easier than ever for them to segment and target their audiences.

Not only that, but marketers can also use the ISPs data and connect it with an individual’s identifying information. From this they will have an exceptionally complete profile of who an individual is and what websites they visit.

ISPs Provide Opt Outs… For a Price

Cell phone ISPs have been openly selling user data for years. In the terms and conditions for most major carriers, there is a condition wherein they can sell user data.

Famously, back in 2013, AT&T start offering consumers the promise that their web data wouldn’t be sold, at the price of $29 per month. This opt-out policy for consumers, which AT&T called Internet Preferences, was ended before the 2015 FCC decisions.

But I wouldn’t be surprised if these same policies emerged, because so many consumers are unhappy about their private browsing information being bought and sold.

Privacy could become a commodity for ISPs to sell. That way they make a profit on both ads and opt-outs.

Either way, it’s open season for consumer data, meaning marketers will have better data in their hands than ever before. This means there is no excuse for the modern marketer to not be using data and analytics in their current marketing strategy.

What would you do with more user data? As a consumer, how does ISPs selling your data make you feel? What about as a marketer? Let us know in the comments section.


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