On Tuesday, the House passed a resolution in a near party-line vote that will give internet service providers the right to collect and sell data about their customers’ browsing histories and shopping habits.
Last week, the Senate approved the resolution in a 50-48 vote with Democrats voting as a block in opposition. In the House, the vote was 215-205 and again the Democrats, along with 15 Republicans, opposed the resolution.
What this legislation does
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, this legislation “blocks an FCC rule that would bar ISPs from selling customer data, including app usage, browsing history, even Social Security numbers, to marketers and others.”
This rule was approved by former president Barack Obama last year and was set to take effect at the end of 2017.
Before this resolution, ISPs, including Comcast, Cox, AT&T and Verizon, had some basic limits on what information they could collect from their customers, and they had to gain consent before selling that information to advertisers and marketers.
Thanks to Republicans in Congress, pesky government regulations safeguarding your privacy will be a thing of the past, and ISPs will no longer require your consent to collect and sell intimate information about you to whomever they want.
And yes, that does mean Verizon could sell intimate information about your shopping and browsing habits to foreign companies.
What is the argument in favor of this?
NPR reported that ISPs, telecom and cable companies fought against the previous measures, arguing it would “put them on an unequal footing with other internet companies that collect data on users, like Google and Netflix, which are only overseen by the Federal Trade Commission.”
The Federal Trade Commission has less stringent rules in regards to user privacy and what the companies can do with the information collected.
The other argument in favor of the resolution is that the previous measures passed by Obama were a form of executive overreach. You know, the same old argument made by Republicans in Congress on nearly every decision by Obama when he tried to protect consumers and Americans’ privacy.
What’s the argument opposed to this?
Privacy advocates like Privacy News Online warn the goal of this legislation is “to remove all the hard-earned net neutrality regulations gained to protect your internet history from advertisers and worse. Specifically, the FCC had been able to prevent internet service providers from spying on your internet history, and selling what they gathered, without express permission.”
So who is right?
The immediate problem with the argument in favor of the legislation is that most people have only one or two ISPs that service their area. So what happens if the only ISP in your area, or both ISPs if you’re lucky and have two options, wants to collect data of what you do on the internet so they can sell it to marketers?
Do you just swear off the internet and live under a rock to protect your privacy? Probably not, because in order to succeed in the 21st century, internet accessibility is a necessity. Which means your ISP is coercing you into giving up your constitutional right to privacy.
This is not the same as Google or Facebook collecting and selling this kind of information, because you can just opt for a different service or none at all. You can use search engines like Bing or Tor to browse the internet if you dislike Google’s terms of service, and if you do not like what Facebook does with your information, you can just not use it and be able to get by just fine in the world.
To the argument of executive overreach, how about corporate overreach? Why are these Republican lawmakers OK with corporations taking your private information and selling it to marketers — and quite possibly foreign entities — without your consent, but are against any regulation to protect your privacy?
Destroying a competitive market
Finally, I just want to ask what happened to the Republican lawmakers who care so deeply and passionately about creating more competition in the market? Allowing ISPs to sell your private information to marketers and advertisers means that a handful of companies are going to gain a massive competitive edge over their competition who do not have the means to purchase said information.
That is not creating a fair marketplace. That is creating monopolies.
Caleb Snider is a sophomore in public relations. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.