U.S. lawmakers voted on Tuesday, March 28, to eliminate Internet privacy protections, giving Internet service providers (ISPs) the green light to sell consumers’ web browsing history and app usage data to advertisers.
Protections proposed by the Federal Communications Commission set to take affect by the end of 2017 would have forced ISPs to get consumers’ consent before hawking their data, The Guardian reported. But House Republicans, following the lead of fellow lawmakers in the Senate, voted 215 to 205 to pass a resolution utilizing the Congressional Review Act to block the privacy rules from taking effect.
Thanks to this move by Congress, ISPs like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon can now freely monitor your Internet browsing behavior and kick that info to advertisers without your permission. Companies can gather all sorts of information on consumers’ personal lives based off web browsing alone, including where they bank, their buying habits and even private health concerns. The web pages you visit also can reveal your political ideology, sexual orientation and, more importantly, when you’re home and when you’re not.
“Give me one good reason why Comcast should know what my mother’s medical problems are,” Congressman Mike Capuano (D-Mass.) said during the hearing before Tuesday’s vote, noting how he had researched her condition after a doctor’s visit. “Just last week, I bought underwear on the Internet. Why should you know what size I take? Or the color?”
Leaders with the American Civil Liberties Union, who also protested the measure, said companies “should not be able to use and sell the sensitive data they collect from you without your permission.”
Other opponents of the privacy rules argued they place a heavy load on broadband providers while allowing Internet giants like Facebook and Google to grab user data without consent. Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas) asserted that the repeal would “level the playing field for an increasingly anti-competitive market,” giving even more power to a handful of companies.
Broadband providers agreed, contending that scrapping the privacy protections would allow them to present consumers with more pertinent advertising and offers, thus increasing the return in investment they made in infrastructure.
The resolution will now head to President Donald Trump’s desk for approval, which is likely to happen. On Tuesday, the White House announced its unwavering support of the repeal.
“The administration strongly supports House passage of S.J.Res. 34,” which scraps the FCC’s rule on privacy of customers’ of broadband services, a White House press release stated. “If S.J.Res. 34 were presented to the president, his advisers would recommend that he sign the bill into law.”
To keep ISPs from monitoring online activity, consumers can use a virtual private network, or VPN. One service, NordVPN, told CNN it’s seen a sharp uptick in consumer interest in the days since the Senate vote. Users also can download Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “HTTPS Everywhere” extension, which encrypts all website connections to your browser or users can adjust their computer’s Domain Name System (DNS) to translate readable website names into a numerical Internet Protocol address.