Internet providers now just need a signature from President Trump before they're free to take, share, and even sell your web browsing history without your permission.
The House of Representatives passed a resolution today overturning an Obama-era FCC rule that required internet providers to get customers' permission before sharing their browsing history with other companies. The rules also required internet providers to protect that data from hackers and inform customers of any breaches.
The resolution was first passed by the Senate last week and now heads to the president, who's expected to sign it. At that point, there'll only be a vague baseline of privacy rules governing internet providers and some promises from them not to misbehave.
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It's hard to see this as anything but a major loss for consumers. While reversing the FCC's privacy rules will technically just maintain the status quo — internet providers have actually been able to sell your web browsing data forever (it's just not a thing we think about all that much) — they were about to lose permission to keep doing it, unless they got explicit consent or anonymized the info.
This is an increasingly important issue as Americans spend more and more time online — and keep more and more devices with them at all times. Internet providers can see what sites you visit and what apps you use, and they can see how long you're using them for. That information is extremely revealing, and it's easy to imagine most people would prefer to keep their reading habits private.
"The consequences of passing this resolution are clear: broadband providers like AT&T, Comcast, and others will be able to sell your personal information to the highest bidder without your permission," said Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) on the House floor this afternoon. "And no one will be able to protect you, not even the Federal Trade Commission that our friends on the other side of the aisle keep talking about."
So why did Congress block the rules from being implemented? Republicans bought into internet providers' arguments that the rules discriminated against them and could confuse consumers. The rules would prevent internet providers from selling your web browsing history even though, the argument goes, websites like Google and Facebook would remain free to do the same thing. ISPs say that's unfair and makes it hard for consumers to understand who gets to see their browsing data.