US Congress votes for ISPs to be able to sell customers’ info and browsing history

After the US Senate, the US House of Representatives has voted on whether the privacy rules imposed late last year by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Internet service providers should go into effect.

ISP customer privacy

As in the Senate before this, the majority of the representatives – 215 of the 420 present – voted for the rules to be scrapped.

Such a resolution, if signed by the US President Donald Trump, will mean that ISPs and mobile data carriers will be able to sell or share its customers’ Web browsing and app usage history and other private information to advertisers and other third parties, without having to ask those customers for permission.

It would also mean that the Federal Communications Commission will, in the future, likely not be able to issue new rules for protecting the privacy of consumers.

Organizations that fight for US citizens’ civil and digital liberties are opposed to this resolution, and have been fighting against it.

ACLU Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani has urged President Trump to veto this resolution “and show he is not just a president for CEOs but for all Americans.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has recently published a post warning about a number of negative consequences that could arise if this legislation is allowed to pass.

Those include ISPs collecting user information and not protecting it well enough from hackers, pushing for means to thwart encryption, inserting ads into customers’ browsing, using pre-installed spyware and unremovable tracking tags and cookies.

“Should President Donald Trump sign S.J. Res. 34 into law, big Internet providers will be given new powers to harvest your personal information in extraordinarily creepy ways. They will watch your every action online and create highly personalized and sensitive profiles for the highest bidder. All without your consent,” EFF’s Legislative Counsel Ernesto Falcon pointed out.

“This breaks with the decades long legal tradition that your communications provider is never allowed to monetize your personal information without asking for your permission first. This will harm our cybersecurity as these companies become giant repositories of personal data. It won’t be long before the government begins demanding access to the treasure trove of private information Internet providers will collect and store.

How to protect your information from ISPs?

Using your browser’s private or incognito mode will do nothing, as it only prevents the browser from seeing and “remembering” which websites you visited.

Websites that implement encrypted communications (e.g. use HTTPS) will prevent ISPs and mobile data carriers from seeing what users do on these sites, but won’t prevent them knowing that they visited them. Add-ons like HTTPS Everywhere can only minimize the extent of specific ISP tracking, not remove it altogether. Still, switching to encrypted communications and HTTPS-protected websites is a good idea.

Using a VPN or Tor might help some, but there are some sites that block access attempts from such sources. Also, in the case of VPNs, you need to be able to trust those companies that they won’t be collecting your browsing data and selling it themselves.

You might want to try and switch to one of the small ISPs that oppose the resolution, but the option will not be available for all users.

And, unfortunately, there is no easy way for individual, tech-unsavvy users to check the devices they received or bought directly from providers for spyware.

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