SENATE REPUBLICANS JUST VOTED TO KILL INTERNET PRIVACY
From health-care coverage to environmental protections, Republicans are moving quickly to erase Barack Obama’s presidential legacy. The latest Obama-era policy to be rolled back are guidelines protecting consumer Internet privacy. Last year, the Federal Communications Commission, under the direction of former Democratic chairman Tom Wheeler, mandated that broadband providers get their customers’ permission before selling or giving their data to advertisers and other third parties. On Thursday, the Senate voted along party lines, 50-48, to scrap those privacy rules, making it easier for broadband providers to share browsing history information about their customers.
Internet companies, like Facebook and Google, and internet service providers, like Verizon and AT&T, are likely pleased with the decision. The Obama-era F.C.C. ruling of last October was widely disliked by industry leaders, and less red tape would make it easier for companies to use consumers’ browsing history to help target more ads. Current F.C.C. rules allow Web sites to track your behavior and sell information about you to ad-targeting companies, but Internet service providers, under the Obama-era rules, still had to get your permission before they could do the same. That puts I.S.P.s at a disadvantage to other tech companies, they argue, when it comes to competing for ad dollars, and worries platforms like Facebook and Google, which reportedly see the rule as opening the door to further regulations in the consumer data area.
Thirty-four senators backed the resolution before Thursday’s vote, spearheaded by Senator Jeff Flake. The measure was also backed by new F.C.C. chairman Ajit Pai, the former Verizon lawyer who opposed the privacy rules last year and has been laser-focused on regulating technical standards as opposed to advocating for consumers or regulating the telecommunications industry. Should the resolution pass the House, broadband providers would be able to collect a trove of data—things like financial information and browsing history—from its users. The majority of consumers would be affected, though there will likely be an opt-out feature.
The changes have left consumer protection and privacy advocates reeling. The dismantling of the Obama-era regulations “would be a crushing loss for online privacy,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation said Thursday. “ISPs act as gatekeepers to the Internet, giving them incredible access to records of what you do online. They shouldn’t be able to profit off of the information about what you search for, read about, purchase, and more without your consent.” Democrats spoke up against the Republican measure as the Senate debated the decision on Wednesday evening. “Yes, there are two sides to this,” Senator Ed Markey, who created the 1996 Telecommunications Act, said, in opposition to rolling back privacy protections for consumers. “You want the entrepreneurial spirit to thrive, but you have to be able to say no, I don’t want you in my living room. Yes, we’re capitalists, but we’re capitalists with a conscience.”