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Consumers Face Privacy Blow As US Senate Overturns FCC Web Tracking Rules

Sam Pudwell joined Silicon UK as a reporter in December 2016. As well as being the resident Cloud aficionado, he covers areas such as cyber security, government IT and sports technology, with the aim of going to as many events as possible.

Internet Service Providers are now free to do what they want with your web browsing history

The House of Representatives in the US has successfully overturned a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rule that required internet service providers (ISPs) to obtain permission before sharing the web browsing history of their customers.

Assuming President Trump signs the bill, which reports suggest he is likely to do, ISPs will be able to collect, share and even sell people’s browsing history without their permission or knowledge.

The old privacy rules, which were adopted by the Obama administration, also required ISPs to inform customers of any data breaches.

Data privacy

Privacy blow

The White House issued a press release yesterday, claiming that the opt-in and opt-out rule “departs from the technology-neutral framework for online privacy administered by the Federal Trade Commission. This results in rules that apply very different regulatory regimes based on the identity of the online actor.”

But whichever way the Trump administration tries to spin it, this development will be seen as a major blow to consumers and privacy advocates, as ISPs will only have to comply with a loose baseline of rules.

“The consequences of passing this resolution are clear: broadband providers like AT&T, Comcast, and others will be able to sell your personal information to the highest bidder without your permission,” said House Representative Anna Eshoo.

“And no one will be able to protect you, not even the Federal Trade Commission that our friends on the other side of the aisle keep talking about.”

US Senate representatives who voted in favour of killing the rules appear to have been swayed by arguments from ISPs claiming that the rules discriminated against them compared to websites such as Facebook and Google.

It was also argued that the FCC regulations would stifle innovation: “These rules do little to enhance privacy but clearly add a layer of red tape on innovators and job creators,” said Representative Greg Walden, chair of the House’s commerce committee.

The European Union actually recently proposed similar rules that would require tech firms to guarantee the confidentiality of their customers’ data and get their content before tracking them online.

Quiz: What do you know about privacy?