The latest jaw-dropper to come out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue: the US House of Representatives is thisclose to making your private internet browsing habits available to the highest bidder.
Late Tuesday night, the House sent to the White House legislation that would allow internet service providers like Verizon, AT&T and others to sell the data it’s been collecting on their users to anyone who wants it, to use for whatever ends the buyer deems necessary or interesting.
As Brian Fung explains in the Washington Post, ISP have been “freed…from restrictions approved just last year that had sought to limit what companies could do with information such as customer browsing habits, app usage history, location data and Social Security numbers. The rules had also required providers to strengthen safeguards for customer data against hackers and thieves. The Senate has already voted to nullify those measures, which were set to take effect at the end of this year.”
Here’s the gut-punch: If Trump signs the legislation, as expected (because, y’know, business is good and everything else blows), “providers will be able to monitor their customers’ behaviors online and, without their permission (emphasis mine), use their personal and financial information to sell highly targeted ads—making them rivals to Google and Facebook in the $83 billion line advertising market.”
This information could be sold directly to interested parties including financial firms (think credit card companies, debt consolidation firms, etc), marketers (you know those ads that show up on the side of your browser when you read the news or your email?) or other companies that make big bucks mining data.
And what about the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the government agency that ushered in the grand program for net neutrality under President Obama and promised a free, open and fair internet? The FCC, which drafted the protections that could soon be nullified, “will be forbidden from issuing similar rules in the future,” Fung reports.
Naturally, internet freedom and privacy advocates are beside themselves.
A group of more than a dozen smaller ISPs and networks has written an open letter to Congress urging the preservation of consumer protections.
“If the rules are repealed, large ISPs across American would resume spying on their customers, selling their data and denying them a practical and informed choice in the matter,” according to the letter, published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
“Perhaps if there were a healthy, free, transparent and competitive market for internet services in this country, consumers could choose not to use those companies’ products. But small ISPs like ours face many structural obstacles, and many Americans have very limited choices: a monopoly or duopoly on the wireline side, and a highly consolidated cellular market dominated by the same wireline firms….the FCC’s Broadband Privacy Rules are the only way that most Americans will retain the free market choice to browse the web without being surveilled by the company they pay for an internet connection.”
EFF also points to the website of Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), who pledges his commitment “to protecting the personal privacy of individuals who use the internet, including website visitors like you.” But Flake, surprise surprise, “rushed a resolution through the Senate to repeal” the FCC’s protections. In fact, Flake was one of 50 Republicans who voted in support of this repeal.
As this madness was unfolding, Michael Capuano (D-Massachusetts) decided to have a little fun.
“Just last week I bought underwear on the internet. Why should you know what size I take or the color,” he asked, according to Ars Technica. If Trump signs this repeal, ISPs could make that kind of information available. It’s not like these companies need the help, Capuano adds: “These companies are not going broke. The internet is not in jeopardy. It’s none of their information, it’s none of their business.”
This might be a decent time to check out this article from the Freedom of the Press Foundation on how to protect your privacy and digital security in the new pro-business, screw-the-little-guy world.