Our household is in the habit of watching CBS This Morning with Norah O’Donnell, Gayle King and Charlie Rose. Even paying my usual half-attention to it, I thought today’s show was more like BS This Morning and here is why.
The producers aired a story (you will have to trust me on this, since I cannot find a link to the video) about the action by Congress to roll back the internet privacy rules proposed by President Obama. As a result of this act, internet service providers (ISPs) like Verizon and AT&T will be able to make commercial use of your internet connection history without asking you.
After the story aired, there was the obligatory twenty-second banter among the co-hosts. As you might expect, they traded jokes about who had something to hide, and Gayle King mentioned the importance of erasing one’s browser history, as if that point was relevant to the story. At no time did any of the co-hosts explain (or themselves seem to understand) that (a) the data collected by your ISP is not the same as the content you see on the screen, or (b) the data collected by your ISP cannot be erased by clearing your browser history.
Your ISP collects the addresses of sites you visit, along with the addresses of any site that delivers data to you via the target site. But your ISP does not store every byte of data sent to your computer — that is both impractical and unneccessary. It is impractical because there is not enough memory storage in the universe to save a copy of every byte delivered to every internet user. It is unneccessary because if the FBI (for example) has an address, physical or virtual, it is pretty easy for them to show up at the address, knock on the door and take all the pictures they want.
Your browser data is very different from what your ISP collects. Your browser records not only site-visit history but a fair amount of web content, and it stores it on your computer — if you choose to allow this — as a convenience to you, so that your frequently-visited sites load faster. Erasing your browser history only gets rid of the content and the cookies and the addresses that your browser stored on your computer. It cannot connect to your ISP and erase any data that your ISP stored.
Each of these privacy concerns is insidious enough — logically, internet service should be treated the same as telephone service in terms of requiring court orders to collect data — but what is almost as bothersome is that the co-hosts of CBS This Morning did not know enough about this story to accurately report on it. They failed to educate their viewers. Instead, they seemed to act in accord with what their viewers’ preconceptions might be.
Internet privacy? Too complicated for me, Charlie! I just work here. For CBS News.
Dear CBS This Morning: Just because you’re a morning show doesn’t mean that your viewers are brain-dead and deserve to be served flake news. Learn before you speak.