Congress just voted to let internet providers sell your browsing history

Less than a week after the Senate voted to empower internet service providers to freely share private user data with advertisers, the House has weighed in, too.

Today in a 215-205 vote on Senate Joint Resolution 34 (H. Res. 230), the House voted to repeal broadband privacy regulations that the Obama administration’s FCC introduced in 2016. In a narrower vote than some expected, 15 Republicans broke rank to join the 190 Democrats who voted against the repeal. The FCC rules, designed to protect consumers, required ISPs to seek consent from their customers in order to share their sensitive private data (it’s worth noting that ISPs can collect it, either way). For consumers, the rollback is a bad deal no matter how you slice it.

As the issue took the floor, California Representative Anna Eshoo laid into the bill, suggesting that her Republican counterparts in the House lacked a nuanced understanding of how internet providers like Comcast and Time Warner serve a different role for consumers than the optional platforms provided by companies like Google and Facebook.

“They can use your information and sell it to the highest bidder,” Eshoo argued. “I think it’s a sad day if the bill passes.”

Colorado Representative Jared Polis joined the chorus of objections on the House floor, elaborating on how limited consumers are with regard to ISPs. “This resolution undermines fundamental privacy for every internet user,” Polis said. “With a broadband provider, most of us don’t have a choice. You either sign up for your local provider or you don’t.”

Under the regulation rollback, there are few limits on the ways ISPs will be allowed to interact with sensitive user data. That includes not just allowing providers to create marketing profiles based on the browsing history of their users, but also letting them deploy undetectable tools that track web traffic, too.

There’s no doubt that major ISPs will sell out their users to advertisers when given the chance, but some smaller providers aren’t yet complicit. Still, in many markets, consumers don’t have a choice of internet provider — a problem that stands to deepen in our present climate of deregulation. Now, only a signature from the president stands in the way of the repeal.

Today’s vote is a blow to anyone who’d prefer not to put their browsing history on blast, and a major victory for advertisers hungry for all of the de-anonymized personal data that they can vacuum up and dole out. With Congress and the FCC squarely in the latter’s camp, consumers who value privacy — and really, we all should — are in for a rough ride.

The language of the joint resolution is as follows:

This joint resolution nullifies the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission entitled “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services.” The rule published on December 2, 2016: (1) applies the customer privacy requirements of the Communications Act of 1934 to broadband Internet access service and other telecommunications services, (2) requires telecommunications carriers to inform customers about rights to opt in or opt out of the use or the sharing of their confidential information, (3) adopts data security and breach notification requirements, (4) prohibits broadband service offerings that are contingent on surrendering privacy rights, and (5) requires disclosures and affirmative consent when a broadband provider offers customers financial incentives in exchange for the provider’s right to use a customer’s confidential information.