The U.S. Senate has just voted to overturn the internet privacy regulations currently upheld by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). If passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, internet service providers (ISPs) would no longer need to ask for the permission of consumers to access private information such as geolocation, health information, and web browsing history.
A Victory For ISPs
Fifty Republicans voted to overturn the Obama-era internet privacy rule, while 48 Democrats voted against the resolution that was introduced earlier this month. When the original rule was first approved by the FCC last October, what it meant for big ISPs such as Verizon and AT&T was that they would need to ask for consumers' consent before gaining access to information deemed as private.
Even then, some believed that this ruling would give websites such as Facebook the unfair advantage of having access to consumer data and using it to their advantage for advertising while ISPs had more hoops to jump through to get to the said data.
With the overturn of this ruling, the extra hoops protecting consumers' privacy will be repealed, though FCC is firm that there are still protective measures even without the Obama-era ruling. They are, however, concerned about the implications of this ruling, and are calling for the House of Representatives to review the ruling thoroughly.
"This is the antithesis of putting #ConsumersFirst. The House must still consider this legislation. We hope they recognize the importance of consumer privacy and not undermine the ability of Americans to exercise control over their sensitive data," said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeney in a joint statement.
What Does This Mean For Consumer Privacy
Among many things, the internet is one of the easiest ways to access an individuals' personal, sensitive data. In this particular case, many are questioning the possibility of ISPs taking full advantage or even abusing the sensitive information that they can gather from their consumers. Even now when the ruling is still in place, it is already easy for websites to access your data and search history so much so that a simple search for one item could lead to a whole week's worth of advertisements all over your screen.
Is it possible that this very subtle privacy breach could become even worse in the days to come? Maybe. Even world wide web inventor Tim Berners-Lee acknowledges that the internet is no longer a simple manner of communication, but has become a powerful tool that has completely evolved since its inception.
In this regard, he is calling for collaboration between consumers and companies to balance out the internet's current problems including political advertising, the spread of fake news, and data collection that some consumers do not even realize they are giving out for free.
There is still no schedule for when The House will discuss the matter, but to many, this issue is beginning to look like a mere competition between companies, rather than actual measures being made to protect their consumers' rights and privacy.