So it finally happened, to no one's surprise but against everyone's opposition: internet privacy is no more.
U.S. President Trump has signed the controversial resolution that repeals internet privacy rules protecting consumers that required internet service providers to obtain permission before using and possibly selling their online data. The rules were adopted by the Federal Communications Commission during the previous Obama administration but had yet to take effect.
The repeal is a victory for internet service providers and a loss for consumer groups. The then-bill prompted a spike in the search for VPNs as people looked for ways to protect their online privacy.
Your Online Data For Sale
The repeal would allow internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast to get a free reign on consumers' online data. These include web browsing history, geolocation, financial information, app usage, health information, and other personal data.
Before, the ISPs would need permission to use these data. But with the scrapping of the rules, the companies could sell the data to advertisers and interested parties like insurance companies without users' consent and with little government oversight. According to tech experts, self-regulation may not protect consumer privacy at all.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai welcomed the repeal, saying it effectively "invalidated one part" of the efforts of Obama in regulating the internet.
"Those flawed privacy rules, which never went into effect, were designed to benefit one group of favored companies, not online consumers," Pai said in an official statement.
Pai echoed the contention of opponents of the privacy rules, such as the ISPs. For them, the rules excluded internet companies like Facebook and Google, which could use its users' online data.
Repeal Without Replacement
Instead of drafting rules that would address this contention and apply to all businesses, both houses of Congress decided to scrap the rules altogether.
Broadband companies and internet companies vary in terms of their position in the market, according to experts. While Google and Facebook are market leaders in their own fields, they are not used to access the internet per se, unlike the nature of internet service providers. Moreover, there is little or no competition among the handful of broadband companies in many markets.
"You can live without Google or Facebook," said Dallas Harris, a legal fellow at Public Knowledge, a nonprofit consumer group. "It's pretty difficult to walk away from internet service altogether."
Internet providers found an ally in Trump, who earlier expressed support for the bill.
"This will allow service providers to be treated fairly and consumer protection and privacy concerns to be viewed on an equal playing field," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said.