Republicans repeal ISP privacy rules — which means they can sell your online history

Republicans repeal ISP privacy rules — which means they can sell your online history
Source: AP
Source: AP

Republicans in Congress, backed by President Donald Trump's White House, repealed Federal Communications Commission rules originally put in place by former President Barack Obama prohibiting internet service providers from selling their customers' web histories for profit.

After the Senate voted 50-48 last week on strict party lines to repeal the rules, the House voted Tuesday to confirm that decision 215-205.

The Obama-era rules did not technically prohibit ISPs from collecting the information, but instead only forced them to ask customers upfront about whether they wanted to be spied on and prohibited them from penalizing customers who refused. Now, the door is wide open for ISPs to monitor their customers with little transparency or substantive prior authorization — and ISPs would be free to charge more for entirely private service or refuse to provide service entirely to customers who don't play ball.

The repeal essentially opens the door for major ISPs like Comcast or Verizon to create and sell massive databases of everything their customers do online in the $83 billion digital ad market, ranging from Google search histories to website visits. Obama's FCC implemented the rules in October 2016, according to the Washington Post, and the new rules passed by Republicans will allow them to sell everything from geolocation and health information to "the content of your messages, emails and other communications."

In other words, everything from your embarrassing health care questions and whether you broke up with someone via text message to your porn search history.

ISPs were technically free to do this already before the FCC changed the rules — but they were only slowly catching up to companies like Facebook or Google which already collect customer data on a smaller scale. In 2013, AT&T launched a program to charge customers who refused to give their data to advertisers $29 more a month, but it dropped the program shortly before the FCC confirmed its privacy rules.

March 29, 2017, 8:35 a.m.: This article has been updated.

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Tom McKay

Tom is a staff writer at Mic, covering national politics, media, policing and the war on drugs. He is based in New York and can be reached at tmckay@mic.com.

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