By Nicholas Parsons
Nicholas Parsons is a junior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Politics, Philosophy and Economics.
Facebook’s recent Cambridge Analytica scandal and the subsequent congressional hearing on Mark Zuckerberg leave us with questions as to what extent companies should be allowed to access and share the information of its users. But what is the current state of affairs in the realm of internet privacy law? Before being able to state whether any laws should be changed to accommodate an increase in individual internet privacy, the current status of internet privacy law should be reviewed.
As of 2015, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that 51% of participants find a scenario in which a hypothetical social media site can utilize user activity to aid in directing suitable advertisements towards them unacceptable, compared to only 33% who find this practice acceptable.  This illustrates that privacy, specifically in terms of the sharing of information for advertisements, has continuously been a hotly contested issue for a majority of internet users. Additionally, 51% of Americans stated that they are not confident in social media sites’ abilities to protect their data, in another survey by Pew.  Thus, not only is privacy a point at issue, but many Americans actually feel as though they cannot rely on social media companies to protect valuable user data.
But what are current general internet privacy rules? Prior to March, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) “broadband privacy rules” protected all American internet users in a variety of ways. For one, internet providers were banned from sharing or profiting off of “your geolocation information, your health information, your children's information, your financial information, your Social Security number, your browsing history, your app usage history or the content of your messages, emails and other communications,” according to policy reporter Brian Fung of the Washington Post.  In March of last year, however, this rule was repealed by Congress, making it possible for internet providers to exploit consumer information in a variety of ways. Although this federal rule has been revoked, some states have responded by formulating their own similar regulations. Seventeen different states have instituted such laws, including New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. For instance, New Jersey passed legislation which requires that internet service providers keep “personally identifiable information… confidential,” unless customers consent to such a breach in privacy. 
While there have existed several regulations on the ability of social media platforms and other organizations to access information on social media, such as those listed above, numerous other shortcomings remain. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), current legislation is “inadequate to protect individuals from… flagrant invasions of privacy,” such as employers and schools demanding access to otherwise private information on social media sites. Additionally, employers are currently not explicitly barred from carrying out penalties for individuals who fail to supply requested social media information. 
Although social media websites like Facebook and other internet providers would purport that users’ privacy protection is a main concern, it is clear from the above information that there are areas that have room for potential exploitation. With internet privacy being a primary issue for many internet users, it will be interesting to see whether the existing gaps in internet privacy legislation will be filled in the future, especially in light of recent media coverage highlighting the issue.
 Fung, Brian. "Republicans Voted to Roll Back Landmark FCC Privacy Rules. Here's What You Need to Know." The Washington Post. March 28, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/03/28/republicans-are-poised-to-roll-back-landmark-fcc-privacy-rules-heres-what-you-need-to-know/?utm_term=.c7bc7ad3002a.
 Rainie, Lee, and Maeve Duggan. "6. Scenario: Personal Details and Advertisements." Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. January 14, 2016. http://www.pewinternet.org/2016/01/14/scenario-personal-details-and-advertisements/.
 Rainie, Lee. "Americans' Complicated Feelings about Social Media in an Era of Privacy Concerns." Pew Research Center. March 27, 2018. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/03/27/americans-complicated-feelings-about-social-media-in-an-era-of-privacy-concerns/
 "Social Networking Privacy." American Civil Liberties Union. https://www.aclu.org/issues/privacy-technology/internet-privacy/social-networking-privacy.
 "Status of Internet Privacy Legislation By State." American Civil Liberties Union. https://www.aclu.org/issues/privacy-technology/internet-privacy/status-internet-privacy-legislation-state.
Photo Credit: Flickr user Sagesolar
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