Senate Votes To Allow ISPs To Sell Browser History Without User Consent

Much to the chagrin of Internet users across the country, the U.S. Senate recently voted to overturn privacy laws imposed last year by the FCC. This law made it a key prerequisite for ISPs to first obtain the user’s permission before selling their browser history to third parties. The resolution, voted 50 to 48, could effectively overturn some constraints imposed by the FCC on Internet service providers (ISPs).

“This resolution is a direct attack on consumer rights, on privacy, on rules that afford basic protection against intrusive and illegal interference with consumers’ use of social media sites and websites that often they talk for granted,” Democrat senator Richard Blumenthal said in a statement before the vote.

As said in a report from Ars Technica, the vote has no immediate effect and the Republican-controlled House still needs to vote on the measure before the privacy rules are officially eliminated. There is also another glimmer of hope knowing that President Donald Trump can use his power to preserve the privacy rules by issuing a veto. However, if the House and Trump agree with the Senate’s action, ISPs won’t have to seek customer approval before sharing their browsing histories and other private information with advertisers.

Last October the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) imposed new privacy rules on Internet service providers, whether home-based providers or mobile operators. The new privacy rules, which were adopted through the Democratic majority at the FCC, require Internet service providers to obtain the prior consent of consumers before sharing web browsing data and other private information with advertisers and other third parties.

According to the FCC, these rules of confidentiality are designed to provide consumers with greater choice, transparency, and security for their personal data. Republicans do not see it this way and with the new FCC president, Republican Ajit Varadaraj Pai, things have begun to change.

Earlier this month Senator Jeff Flake and 23 other Republican senators, accompanied by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, filed a joint resolution to cancel the new privacy rules imposed on Internet service providers and to prevent the FCC from taking similar action in the future. Senator Flake sees this resolution as an initiative to “protect consumers from over-regulation of the Internet.” He also believes that this will “allow consumers to make informed choices about whether and how their data can be shared.” Not surprisingly, the measure was warmly welcomed by the online advertising industry.

In the Democrats’ camp, this vote is seen as a blatant violation of consumers’ rights to privacy. Democrat Senator Ed Markey condemned the measure and issued the below statement regarding the matter.

“President Trump may be outraged by fake violations of his own privacy, but every American should be alarmed by the very real violation of privacy that will result [from] the Republican roll-back of broadband privacy protections.”

If the proposal is passed by the House of Representatives, which seems very likely at this stage, ISPs will have the leisure to collect user browser history and other data associated with it and sell it to third parties. This information may include data such as the location of your IP address, visits to websites, and other sensitive data.

This is a golden opportunity for tech giants — such as Google and Facebook — to act as powerful oligopolies. Many Internet users will be left unprotected in matters such as pricing, and Internet neutrality could become a thing of the past.

[Featured Image by Drew Angerer/Getty Images]