The U.S. House of Representatives plans to vote tomorrow on a resolution that would eliminate the FCC’s broadband privacy rules. Don’t let them.
We generally tend to stay politics-light on iMore, because it’s often not a topic that needs covering on a technology enthusiast site. But there are some fights that I can’t sit on the sidelines for — like net neutrality.
Tomorrow, the House of Representatives votes on an already-passed joint resolution from the Senate. This bill, very well explained in this piece by the Verge, would repeal the FCC’s 2016 privacy rules on how ISPs can and can’t use your private data.
In plain English: If you connect to the internet using a service like Charter, Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, or others, those companies are currently bound against doing certain things with your data. By passing this bill, Congress (and the President) would remove that barrier. From The Verge:
The FCC’s broadband privacy rules protect your personal information in four critical ways. ISPs are required to:
- Tell customers about what types of information they collect, how they use that information, and with whom they share that information
- Obtain affirmative permission (opt in) from customers to use and share sensitive information like financial and health information, Social Security numbers, web browsing, and application usage history. For non-sensitive information, customers must be allowed to opt out of use and sharing of that information at any time and with minimum effort
- Take reasonable measures to keep customers’ data secure
- Give customers timely notice of data breaches, and in the event of a larger breach, give notice to law enforcement officials.
Because an ISP sees pretty much every bit of data you transmit — even those data bits viewed in Private Browsing mode — if this bill passes, it may be a whole lot harder to get away from targeted ads or deal with stolen customer information in the future.
Congress’s current reasoning for arguing against the FCC’s rules is that they’re unfairly limiting ISPs from selling your personal data when other companies integral to the web (like Facebook, Twitter, or Google) are exempt. But, as the Verge so smartly points out:
There are other important differences between ISPs and edge companies. ISPs charge handsomely for their services, while most edge companies’ services are free, creating very different consumer expectations with regard to collection and use of data. Moreover, consumers can easily choose whether or not to use a particular edge provider and thus reveal information. By contrast, even in the instances where a consumer has a choice of broadband providers (and Americans in 78 percent of census blocks do not, according to a recent FCC report), high switching costs make changing providers a very unattractive option. You can decide you’re fed up with Google’s data policies and use another search engine easily; it’s much harder to do that with your ISP.
Despite these differences, I agree that one set of privacy rules for the internet ecosystem might be desirable. But why is Congress’ response to this alleged unlevel playing field removing the strongest privacy rules protecting consumers today?
If your argument is one to protect all consumers, why not introduce a bill that supports these protections against all internet companies before getting rid of the primary protections users have against their data being unknowingly traded off to the highest bidder?
Even though these votes have been and will likely be on party lines, you don’t have to be a Democrat or a Republican to disapprove of companies being able to sell your personal browsing data.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has more information on the danger of this repeal, as well as steps you can take to contact your congressperson to implore them to vote against this resolution.
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