Have you ever wished that your Internet Service Provider could record everything you do online and then sell that information to the highest bidder? If, like most Americans, you haven’t, then you might not be happy about a new joint resolution passed by Congress that allows your ISP to do just that.
The resolution overturns an FCC rule, voted on last October and due to come into force later this year, that would have prevented ISPs from collecting and selling your web browser or app usage history without your permission. Privacy advocates argue that your browser history can be analyzed and used to learn almost anything about you.
What reasons could Congress possibly have for passing this resolution? The justification being given by supporters is that the FCC rule unfairly restricts ISPs from making money off your data and that it should be left to the consumer to decide if they want their information sold, either by changing ISP or by opting out.
Even if you agree with this idea in theory, in practice it’s going to be extremely difficult for most consumers to protect their information in those ways. Americans have little choice when it comes to ISPs, so competition is limited, and switching ISP is rarely an option. As far as opting out goes, you can see AT&T’s current opt-out page here, and it shows how ISPs can make it essentially impossible to be sure that you’ve fully opted out.
In practice, this resolution is a gift to ISPs at the expense of consumers, and it’s hard not to speculate that the real reason for the resolution’s existence is that the telecom industry is one of the biggest donors to members of Congress. Senator Jeff Flake, who introduced the resolution, received almost $28,000 in donations during the last election cycle, and donations to members who supported the bill total over $9 million.
So Congress just sold your privacy to the highest bidder, and now your ISP can, too.