Congress Wants to Let Internet Providers Sell Your Personal Data
How do you feel about your internet service provider quietly collecting your private information then selling it to private companies for marketing purposes?
The average American would probably object to such a move, but not members of Congress, reports the ACLU. Republicans in the Senate are moving to strike an FCC internet privacy rule to allow whatever company you pay to provide you internet to do precisely that.
Last autumn, the Federal Communications Commission, under the Obama administration’s authority, established a rule that requires internet companies to get their customers’ permission before selling their data. It seemed like a non-controversial, common sense reform to protect the privacy rights of Americans.
As you might expect, however, internet service providers did not like the rule because they can stand to make a lot of money selling information to companies about people’s internet habits. They have lobbied members of Congress to kill this regulation and they have influence – in the 2014 election, the four largest telecom companies donated over $8 million.
Money talks, apparently, because Senator Jeff Flake, a Republican from Arizona, took up the internet providers’ cause and rounded up early backing from 34 other senators. They intend to attack the regulation with the Congressional Review Act, a power that allows Congress to undo recently passed rules by federal agencies with a simple majority in both houses.
Worst of all, if Congress passes the resolution, it would effectively prevent the FCC from being able to make a similar rule again in the future. In other words, there’s little likelihood of undoing this damage.
Without this protection, companies like Comcast, AT&T, Spectrum, Verizon and more can sell private information like where you access the internet, what websites you visit, how often and at what times of day you visit these websites, as well as your internet purchases – all without your consent.
A letter written jointly by several large telecom companies states, “The rule harms consumers because it creates confusion in a regulatory environment in which customer data is regulated by two different agency standards.”
Bogus. Consumers are not “harmed” when regulations are too complicated for the average person to easily understand. More often than not, they are unaware of the various details. For example, people tend to quickly click “accept” on lengthy user agreements and hope that the government is blocking the company from doing anything too shady.
Sen. Flake has used similarly misleading language to defend his decision to get rid of the privacy rules. By revoking the rule, he argues, “it empowers consumers to make informed choices on if and how their data can be shared.”
Except that this really isn’t an issue of “choice” since most internet users most definitely do not want their browser history shared with advertising agencies. It feels like an invasion rather than something empowering.
Besides, it’s not as if a lot of Americans are in a position to simply choose another company if they don’t like the policies of their internet providers. Roughly one-third of American homes literally have just one option available to them.
Also, even in areas where there isn’t an internet monopoly, if all of the major companies opt in on sharing your personal data, which their collective lobbying suggests that they would, once again there is no choice in blocking an ISP from selling your info.
If members of Congress are elected to represent the people, then there’s no reason why senators should want to dismantle this reasonable privacy regulation. By siding with the telecom companies on this issue, the GOP is making it abundantly clear that they’re in the pocket of special interests.
Photo Credit: Tirza van Dijk