Your Browser History Can Now Be Sold Without Your Consent
Corporate tracking of your online activity is about to get even more invasive.
Internet service providers will soon be automatically able to collect information on browsing habits, health information, and other sensitive data from its users after the House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a repeal of protections put in place under the Obama administration. On a 215-205 vote, largely along party lines, the House voted undo these Obama-era broadband privacy rules that govern the behavior of internet service providers.
The rules, passed by the Federal Communications Commission, had required users to explicitly opt into data collection by internet service providers. Without these protections, companies like Comcast CMCSA, +0.35% Time Warner TWC, -0.09% and Verizon VZ, -0.08% will be allowed to collect user browsing history, alter search results and monitor other online activity to sell the data to advertisers. (None of these companies responded to requests for comment.)
Approval of the bill came despite a backlash from privacy advocates and pressure from tech-savvy voters. The bill passed the Senate last week, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign it.
Consumers are already tracked online by advertisers, but the repeal of these protections will take surveillance to a more intimate level. Internet service providers have been campaigning to remove these regulations for more than a year. Without them, companies will be able to pre-install software to consumers’ phones that record every URL visited, insert advertisements across the web based on traffic, and re-engineer search results to direct users to sponsors’ pages rather than traditional searches.
“The decades-old legal right to communications privacy will be weakened as a gift to the cable and telephone industry,” Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel at the digital privacy advocacy organization the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told MarketWatch. “These companies will begin monetizing your personal information by building profiles of your online activity and will no longer need to seek your permission to do so.”
Many ISPs already participate in some of the practices the FCC law is meant to prevent, as it hasn’t gone into effect yet. According to AdAge, some telecommunications companies have joined with data firms to sell information about user operations, including browsing and shopping history, demographic information and location. FCC rules were meant to make this kind of monitoring allowed only on an opt-in basis.
The repeal comes despite growing awareness about data collection and tracking, according to Michael Kaiser, chief executive of the National Cyber Security Alliance, a public-private partnership for online privacy and security. Some 92% of U.S. internet users worry about their online privacy and 89% say they avoid companies that don’t protect their privacy, a 2016 survey it conducted found. However, only 31% understand how companies share their personal information.