Did Congress Really Just Give Away our Browsing History?

Congress has recently voted to repeal the Federal Communications Commission’s 2016 privacy regulations, and President Trump has stated that he is anticipating on signing this into law. The FCC’s privacy rules provides customers the freedom to choose the way in which their Internet Service Providers use and share their data, including their browsing history.

For consumers, if this is approved and signed into law by President Trump, ISPs, such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast, will have the ability to sell their customers’ personal information without their permission. Currently, according to The Telecommunications Act of 1996, telecommunication providers are required to protect the personal privacy and data of their consumers. Starting in 2015 with the most recent net neutrality agreement, Internet Service Providers (ISP) also fell into the category of telecommunication providers, thus they were required to protect the personal data of their customers.

If this privacy protection is passed, Internet Service Providers will be granted the authority to utilize their access to all of their customer’s online data and sell it to the highest bidding offer. That includes all of your browsing history, current location, what hours of the day you are online, how long you spend online, and what devices you are using.

The repeal of FCC privacy rules would allow ISPs the ability to sell any of this information to marketers, to snoop through consumer’s online traffic, record it and then insert advertising into user’s browser, and to even place undetectable tracking cookies (also known as “supercookies”) in all HTTP traffic.

Internet Service Providers are arguing that other Internet based edge companies already do this, including Google and Facebook. True, but somewhat different, considering that both Google and Facebook only have access to a consumer’s online data when they are using their free services. Not only do Internet Service Providers have access to all of the consumer’s online information, but that customer is paying to a substantial fee to utilize their Internet service. Therefore, Internet Service Providers expect a much different customer experience and expectation than that of an edge company that provides a free service.

Furthermore, when it comes to edge companies, consumers have a choice to use their online service or not, and thus providing that company voluntary access to their online traffic data. ISPs, however, gain access to all online data and the customer may not have the option to abstain from their service. A recent FCC report revealed a whopping 78 percent of Americans lack the ability to switch Internet Service Providers. So, if a consumer disagrees with their ISP’s data and privacy policies, they may not technically have the ability to switch to a different Internet provider.

Despite the differences between Internet Service Providers and edge companies and their lack of paralleled regulations, it does not seem to be a valuable solution to the consumer to decrease privacy regulations of ISPs to match that of edge companies. Rather, Congress should be looking into increasing the privacy standard for edge companies that protect American Internet users.