Today, while you’re not watching, the Senate could gut rules protecting your internet privacy.
Last year the Federal Communications Commission passed a set of strict privacy regulations that ban broadband internet providers from selling your browsing data without your consent. Now, while most Americans are watching Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination hearing and Obamacare repeal intrigue, senators could vote as early as today on a resolution to not only reverse the FCC’s action but block the agency from passing similar rules in the future. (The resolution would still need to pass the House and get President Trump’s signature to take effect.)
Even if Republicans spike the Obama-era FCC’s protections, most of which have not taken effect yet, the agency will still have some authority to protect your privacy. But little would stop internet providers from selling your personal data to ad buyers and anyone else hoping to turn a profit by targeting your browsing habits.
Republican lawmakers argue that the FCC’s rules confuse customers because they only cover internet providers and not websites like Google and Facebook. But repealing the them without a new privacy framework in place could create a enforcement vacuum that isn’t good for anyone.
For most of the internet’s existence, protecting users’ privacy has fallen to the Federal Trade Commission. But in 2015, the FCC reclassified internet providers as utility-style “common carriers,” which an appeals court decided the FCC has the sole authority to regulate. With that newfound power, the agency passed stronger rules than the ones enforced by the FTC. If they take effect, broadband providers could not sell your browsing data unless you explicitly opt in. The telco industry hated the order, claiming that it gave the likes of Google and Facebook an unfair advantage. After all, those web giants make billions selling your browsing data by default.