Corporate tracking of your online activity is about to get even more invasive. Republicans in a party-line vote in both Congress and the Senate passed a resolution that unwinds an Obama-era FCC regulation that currently requires home and mobile Internet service providers obtain permission to collect and sell users’ sensitive data by asking users to opt-in.
In sum, the resolution disbanding the FCC regulation would allow home and mobile Internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon to:
- Collect your browsing history
- Alter your search results
- Monitor your online activity
- Sell your data to advertisers
Proponents of Internet privacy describe the scrapping of the FCC regulation as “a gift to the cable and telephone industry” because it “takes surveillance to a more intimate level.”
Essentially, a broadband service provider without permission can record every URL visited, see every time you get online, how much time you spend online, from where you got online and the emails you send and receive. It also allows providers to collect, store, share and sell your personal information, including health and financial info, as well as data entered in online forms, such as your phone number, social security number, credit card number and passwords.
Who could be in favor of such a thing? The majority of the Republicans Party, which has shown it has no libertarian strains left. Instead, it’s become a nasty blend of corporatism and the Cheka. The GOP voted 215 to 205 in favor in the House. Only 15 reps proved they weren’t in the pocket of telecoms by voting against it. The House roll call voting results can be viewed here.
— Fight for the Future (@fightfortheftr) March 23, 2017
Massachusetts Rep. Michael Capuano (D) on Tuesday summed it up best by shouting the following message across the isle:
“What the heck are you thinking!? What is in your mind?! Why would you want to give out any of your personal information to a faceless corporation for the sole purpose of them selling it? Give me one good reason why Comcast should know what my mother’s medical problems are. … Last week I bought underwear on the Internet. Why should you know what size I take, or the color, or any of that information. When I was growing up, I thought one of the tenets of the Republican Party that I admired the most was privacy.”
Texas Rep. Michael Burgess (R) had the uncomfortable task of introducing the resolution to end online privacy to the House. Awkward! He meekly read from a sheet of paper no doubt delivered to him by some telecom lobbying group. His points, in sum, were:
- The FCC regulation is “duplicative” of FTC rules (but the FTC has no enforcement mechanism)
- The regulation provides an “unfair” advantage to Internet “edge companies,” such as Google, Facebook and Amazon, because they don’t have to request visitors opt-in to collect data
- Service providers want a bigger piece of the ad-revenue pie enjoyed by companies like Google and Amazon (the nation’s largest ISP has a net worth of $150 billion; whereas a parent company of the nation’s largest Internet company is $500 billion)
- Internet users are experiencing “opt-in fatigue”
- Being prompted to opt-in is confusing for Internet users
- Republicans want limited government
- Undoing the FCC regulation would restore free-market competitiveness
Nobody came to the floor to back up Burgess and speak in favor of the resolution. Watch for yourself. The “debate” begins at 01:12:00.
The resolution is now on its way to the Oval Office, where Trump is expected to sign it. If he does, we predict his approval rating — now hovering at 36% — will take an additional hard hit. After all, more than 90% of voters say they value their Internet privacy. Yep, for those still smokin’ the Trumpian hopium, this could be a harsh wake-up call. Approving the resolution would prove once and for all that he’s not the people’s president. We shall soon see …
What You Can Do
According to Market Watch:
Consumers can still circumvent surveillance by using a Virtual Private Network, or VPN. The tool loops user traffic through a private, encrypted network rather than sending it directly to the servers of your internet company, obscuring your browsing habits from the service provider. It’s notoriously difficult to rank the best VPN services, but Freedom and Private Internet Access (PIA) are often regarded as solid choices, according to security experts, and cost only a few dollars a month.
However, Falcon noted, many consumers lack the “technical sophistication” to use a VPN — while more than 25% of people around the globe use VPNs, only 16% of Americans have used one, and it’s still largely considered a “niche tool” outside of those who use them to connect to their office’s virtual desktop.