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US Senate votes to allow ISPs sell Web browsing history to advertisers

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The US Senate today voted to eliminate broadband privacy rules that would have required ISPs to get consumers’ explicit consent before selling or sharing Web browsing data and other private information with advertisers and other companies.

Getty Images | KrulUA
Getty Images | KrulUA

The rules were approved in October 2016 by the Federal Communications Commission’s then-Democratic leadership, but are opposed by the FCC’s new Republican majority and Republicans in Congress. The Senate today used its power under the Congressional Review Act to ensure that the FCC rulemaking “shall have no force or effect” and to prevent the FCC from issuing similar regulations in the future.

The Senate vote was 50-48, with lawmakers voting entirely along party lines.

“President Trump may be outraged by fake violations of his own privacy, but every American should be alarmed by the very real violation of privacy that will result [from] the Republican roll-back of broadband privacy protections,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said after the vote.

The Senate measure was introduced two weeks ago by Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and 23 Republican co-sponsors. Flake said at the time that he is trying to “protect consumers from overreaching Internet regulation.” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai argues that consumers would be confused if there are different privacy rules for ISPs than for online companies like Google and Facebook. “American consumers should not have to be lawyers or engineers to figure out if their information is protected,” Pai recently told Democratic lawmakers.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) argued today that the privacy rules “hurt job creators and stifle economic growth.” Cornyn also said the FCC’s privacy rulemaking involves the “government picking winners and losers,” and was among the “harmful rules and regulations put forward by the Obama administration at the last moment.”

Update on March 24: We have a new story explaining the impact of the Senate vote, titled, “How ISPs can sell your Web history—and how to stop them.”

Advocacy groups including Free Press, Demand Progress, and the ACLU went to Congress to deliver nearly 90,000 petitions to “save broadband privacy” yesterday.

ISPs and advertising lobby groups had urged senators to kill the privacy rules. Cable lobby group NCTA—The Internet & Television Association said, “we appreciate today’s Senate action to repeal unwarranted FCC rules that deny consumers consistent privacy protection online and violate competitive neutrality.” The group said that the cable industry “remains committed to offering services that protect the privacy and security of the personal information of our customers.”

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James Barnley

I’m the editor of the DomainingAfrica. I write about internet and social media, focusing mainly on Domains. As a subscriber to my newsletter, you’ll get a lot of information on Domain Issues, ICANN, new gtld’s, Mobile technology and social media.

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