In the latest movement by the GOP to benefit corporations at the expense of ordinary Americans, Congress has just swept aside widely popular online privacy protections. In a party-line vote, House Republicans freed Internet service providers (Verizon, AT&T and Comcast) from following consumer protections (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 also had required providers to strengthen safeguards for customer data against hackers and thieves.
If Trump signs the legislation as expected, providers will be able to monitor their customers’ behavior online and, without their permission, use their personal and financial information to sell highly targeted ads.
The providers could also sell their users’ information directly to marketers, financial firms and other companies that mine personal data — all of whom could use the data without consumers’ consent. In addition, the Federal Communications Commission, which initially drafted the protections, would be forbidden from issuing similar rules in the future.
Search engines and streaming-video sites already collect usage data on consumers. But Internet providers know much more about a person’s activities because they can see all of the sites a customer visits. And although consumers can easily abandon sites whose privacy practices they don’t agree with, it is far more difficult to choose a different Internet provider. Many Americans have a choice of only one or two broadband companies in their area, according to federal statistics.
Advocates for tough privacy protections online characterized the new legislation as a tremendous setback for America. “Today’s vote means that Americans will never be safe online from having their most personal details stealthily scrutinized and sold to the highest bidder,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.