Explained: What the reversal of the FCC’s privacy rules means for your online presence

4 min read

Today marks a new landmark for your online data. The US Senate has voted 50-48 to remove privacy rules set by the FCC that restricts internet providers from selling your data history. This includes your sites concerning finance, health, app data, and location.

This latest vote comes from the rules set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) late last year that would have gone into effect in December of 2017. The rules would condemn Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from selling personal customer information without written consent from their customers. These protections were created for consumers to help regulate and prevent user’s data from being sold to 3rd parties without their knowledge. Now, those rules have been shot down.

What does all this mean for you and your online life? Essentially it means you are trusting your ISP with complete control over your web history. The rules in their current form allow for more than just generalized data to be shared without your consent. It allows for information like financial application history, how many children you have and their ages, and health related sites to be handed over to the highest bidder. Normal consumer privacy rules are covered by the FTC, but internet providers are not contained under their regulatory authority.

This oversight is the main reason the FCC had established control over internet privacy and laid the groundwork for the new rules set in place last October. They intended to reign back the already vague power ISPs have over consumer’s web history, and protect the rights you have to that data staying privately out of the hands of ad agencies. Also, while there are similarities to the likes of Google and Facebook, I can simply stop using those services with a few clicks of a button. The same can’t be said for who I get my internet through. In some areas, I may only have one option and those all tend to require a contract that can be very costly to drop.

The vote today was allowed by a loophole called Congressional Review Act that holds the power to revert previous rules set by certain federal agencies by bringing it back to the Congress floor for re-vote. The Republican party has pushed for the rebuttal and has a rather confusing argument that ISPs selling data is no different than what Google and Facebook do. However, I would point out that both Google and Facebook mine data with the user’s consent up front and is fairly transparent parts of their respective user agreements.

The voted measures were not without opposition. The most vocal seemed to have been Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal, who both took the floor to show support for online safety and personal privacy:

“This resolution is a direct attack on consumer rights, on privacy, on rules that afford basic protection against intrusive and illegal interference with consumers’ use of social media sites and websites that often they talk for granted,” – Blumental

“With today’s vote, Senate Republicans have just made it easier for American’s sensitive information about their health, finances, and families to be used, shared, and sold to the highest bidder without their permission. The American public wants us to strengthen privacy protections, not weaken them. We should not have to forgo our fundamental right to privacy just because our homes and phones are connected to the internet.” – Markey

Online privacy is a big concern for many people in today’s society, and I can’t help but feel like that took a huge hit today with this vote. We are allotted personal privacy laws in most other forums and the internet should not be treated any differently. The advocacy for an open internet is under attack, and we need to stay strong while vocalizing our concerns to hopefully avoid similar results. We still have a say to help shape how this debate continues around the integrety of our internet lives.

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