Internet service providers (ISPs) in the US will soon be able to share user browsing history, location data and other personal information with marketing companies, advertisers and other third parties without first seeking consent.
The House of Representatives voted last Tuesday to scrap legislation brought in under Obama that obliged ISPs to gain permission before sharing personal user data.
The legislation was passed last October and was due to take effect at the end of the year. It would have required ISPs to seek opt-in consent from users before sharing personal data, including geolocation, browsing history, as well as financial, health and social security information.
USTelecom, the trade association that represents internet service providers in the US, argued that the legislation obliged ISPs to follow stricter rules than those required for large internet sites such as Google and Facebook. Jonathan Spalter, the CEO of USTelecom said the following:
“Consumers should feel confident that the steps taken today won’t change anything other than clearing the path for regulators to institute uniform privacy rules that will keep their sensitive information private and secure.”
The repeal is supported by several major providers operating in the US, including Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, all of which run their own advertising networks. Once the repeal comes into action, ISPs will be able to share user data with third party advertisers as well. ISPs have promised that users will be allowed to opt-out of personalized advertising.
The newly-appointed chief of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, said the following in a statement:
“Last year, the Federal Communications Commission pushed through, on a party-line vote, privacy regulations designed to benefit one group of favoured companies over another group of disfavoured companies,”
“Appropriately, Congress has passed a resolution to reject this approach of picking winners and losers before it takes effect.”
“Moving forward, I want the American people to know that the FCC will work with the [Federal Trade Commission] to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected though a consistent and comprehensive framework.”
In response to the repeal, Evan Greer, campaign director for the online rights group Fight for the Future said the following:
“Today Congress proved once again that they care more about the wishes of the corporations that fund their campaigns than they do about the safety and security of their constituents,” adding “People from across the political spectrum are outraged, and every lawmaker who votes to take away our privacy will regret it come election day.”
Fight for the Future has since launched a billboard campaign to publicize those members of Congress who voted for the repeal.
Other online privacy groups have also expressed outrage at the vote, with many pointing out that major technology companies have remained silent.
Craig Aaron from Free Press, an online rights group who advocates net neutrality said the following:
“There are a lot of companies that are very concerned about drawing attention to themselves and being regulated on privacy issues, and are sitting this out in a way that they haven’t sat out previous privacy issues.”
The repeal was signed by President Trump on Monday.