What to expect now that Internet providers can collect and sell your Web browser history – By Brian Fung March 29 at 2:27 PM


(Aaron M. Sprecher/Bloomberg News)

After Congress handed President Trump legislation Tuesday that would wipe away landmark privacy protections for Internet users, we received a lot of reader questions about what happens next. The legislation makes it easier for Internet providers, such as AT&T and Verizon, to collect and sell information such as your Web browsing history and app usage. But let’s get into the details: You wanted to know whether the measure could help the government dig up dirt on people. You asked how to protect your privacy. And some of you even asked if it would be possible to buy up the online browsing histories of Trump or members of Congress.

To find out, I spoke to a number of privacy and security experts who have been following these issues closely in the public and the private sectors.

Catch me up real quick. What did Congress vote on?

Congress voted to keep a set of Internet privacy protections approved in October from taking effect later this year. The rules would have banned Internet providers from collecting, storing, sharing and selling certain types of personal information — such as browsing histories, app usage data, location information and more — without your consent. Trump must still sign the legislation, but he is widely expected to do so. For more, read our full story here.

Without these rules, could I really go to an Internet provider and buy a person’s browsing history?

The short answer is “in theory, but probably not in reality.”

Many Internet service providers (ISPs) have privacy policies that may cover this type of information. If an ISP shares or sells an individual’s personal information in violation of its own privacy policy, a state attorney general could take the company to court, said Travis LeBlanc, a former enforcement bureau chief at the Federal Communications Commission. State attorneys general could also sue ISPs whose data practices could be construed as “unfair” to other businesses. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has said what’s left of his agency’s privacy authority still allows him to bring lawsuits against companies — he just won’t be able to write rules that look similar to what Congress rejected this week.

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