Recently, President Trump signed into law a resolution that repealed protections requiring Internet service providers to get your permission before collecting and sharing data. These protections, which had not yet gone into effect, were approved by the Federal Communications Commission in the final days of the Obama administration. The regulation was scheduled to take effect later this year, but Congress used its authority under the obscure Congressional Review Act to wipe it from the books.
The providers have data on your web browsing history, app usage and geo-location. Providers would also have been required to notify customers about the types of information collected and shared. Those FCC regulations were the strictest ever been imposed to protect consumer online privacy. Even though the rules only included broadband and wireless providers, and excluded internet companies like Google and Facebook, proponents saw it as a first step in giving consumers more control of their personal data online. In repealing the rules, Republicans used the Congressional Review Act, a tool that enables lawmakers to expedite bills to reverse recent regulations. The Act also prohibits the Federal Communications Commission from adopting similar rules in the future.
Critics have argued that the rule would stifle innovation and pick winners and losers among internet companies. “President Trump and Congress have appropriately invalidated one part of the Obama-era plan for regulating the Internet,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed by Trump, said in a statement. “Those flawed privacy rules, which never went into effect, were designed to benefit one group of favored companies, not online consumers.” Supporters of the privacy measure argued that the company that sells an internet connection can see even more about consumers, such as every website they visit and whom they exchange emails with, information that would be particularly useful for advertisers and marketers.
Undoing the regulation leaves people’s online information in a murky area. Experts say federal law still requires broadband providers to protect customer information but it doesn’t spell out how or what companies must do, which is what the online privacy rule aimed to do. The absence of clear privacy rules means companies that supply internet service, and who can monitor how consumers use it, can continue to mine that information for use in their own advertising businesses. Consumer advocates fear that Congress or the FCC’s new Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, may seek to roll back the agency’s rules on net neutrality, the policy that forbids Internet providers from blocking content they don’t like or charging websites a fee to reach consumers over faster Internet speeds. Consumer advocates also worry that the companies will be a rich target for hackers.