Internet browsing history and data may now be up for sale, as the U.S. House of Representatives specifically voted on March 28 to make it so, pedalling back rules set by the Federal Communications Commission that would have blocked internet service providers, or ISPs, from taking advantage of user data by selling them sans any consent from users.
US Senate Votes To Repeal Internet Privacy Rules
The recent vote means that the FCC will no longer be able to enforce its privacy rules passed last year, helmed by then-chairman Tom Wheeler. Under said privacy rules, the FCC could have stopped ISPs from selling internet browsing data without getting consent from its subscribers. The same rules could have also required ISPs to protect said data from potential hacks and breaches and inform customers if such misfortunes occur.
According to reports, the debate surrounding the vote even dabbled in very specific theoreticals, in which, Keith Ellison, democratic representative of Minnesota, stated that "there has got to be somebody in this body who believes [ISPs] should not have anybody's underwear size."
With the vote cast, the resolution moves up to President Trump's desk. His signature will officiate the right of ISPs to sell aforementioned data. The resolution was first passed by the Senate last week, and if Trump indeed signs it — as expected of him — there will only be a vague baseline of privacy rules to keep a lookout for ISPs, alongside some promises not to do any funny business. Of course, such rules and promises seem like a familiarity at this point, and with Trump eventually signing it, ISPs can go on and sell internet browsing data when and how they wish.
As much as the vote is a loss for the FCC's previous privacy rules, it's also bad news for consumers. While ISPs have technically been able to sell user data for quite a while, they were actually about to lose permission to keep doing so, unless they explicitly received the go-signal from consumers or made the information anonymous.
With the repeal, ISPs will be able to sell a trove of data without getting user permission, such as the sites visited, the apps used, and how much time is spent using such apps. That data is decidedly of utmost private nature. Imagine apps as books or music, for instance. Most people would probably prefer their reading or listening habits be closed off from the access of ISPs, let alone have it up for sale.
"Broadband providers like AT&T, Comcast, and others will be able to sell your personal information to the highest bidder without your permission," said Anna Eshoo, democratic representative of California, adding that "no one will be able to protect you, not even the Federal Trade Commission that our friends on the other side of the aisle keep talking about."
The Quest For ISPs To Sell Browsing Data
The privacy rules the FCC passed back in October never went into effect, obviously. If they had, consumers would have been able to seize more control of how ISPs collect their data. Also, the same rules wouldn't have applied to the likes of Google or Facebook, which are also data collectors and digital advertisers. That type of freedom has been particularly a point of contention for ISPs. Consumers argue, however, that if they found Facebook or Google's data collecting as problematic, they can easily switch to other services; shifting to other ISPs if you disagree with their policies proves more difficult.
ISPs have long attempted to make inroads in the massive and rapidly growing world of digital advertising and ad-targeting. With Trump's signature the only thing needed, they're inching closer and closer to such goals.