NEW YORK — Regulations designed to give consumers more control over their online privacy appear to be dead before it was even set to begin.
The Republican-controlled Senate voted along party lines Thursday to repeal Internet privacy protections that were approved by the Federal Communications Commission just days before Donald Trump won the election.
U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee of Utah both co-sponsored and voted for the repeal.
The rules, which had not yet gone into effect, would have required Internet service providers to get your permission before collecting and sharing your data on everything from web browsing history to geo-location information.
Providers would also have been required to notify customers about the types of information collected and shared.
Jeff Flake, the Republican Senator who introduced the resolution to repeal, criticized the rules this month as “unnecessary” and “innovation-stifling regulation.”
Democrats, however, argued the repeal effectively hands over the customer’s personal information to the highest bidder. Many broadband providers already share some of their customers’ browsing behavior with advertisers. To avoid that, customers typically have to opt out — and they might not even be aware that their information is being shared.
“The American people do not want their sensitive information collected, used and sold by any third party, whether that be your broadband provider or a hacker,” Sen. Edward Markey said in a speech on the floor of the Senate hours before the vote.
“This is the first action of Congress on tech policy [and] it’s to take away your privacy rights with Internet service providers,” says Chris Lewis, VP of Public Knowledge, a tech advocacy group.
Lewis and others worked to raise attention for the issue, but struggled to break through the noise of other blockbuster legislative issues.
“Unfortunately there’s so much going on in the Congress right now — a Supreme Court nomination and repeal of the ACA — which gets a lot more attention,” he says.
The repeal is a big win for providers like AT&T and Verizon. They have bet billions on content acquisitions, which can potentially be paired with subscriber data to build up online advertising businesses to compete with the likes of Google and Facebook. For example, AT&T has agreed to acquire Time Warner, the parent company of CNN. The deal is pending regulatory approval.
Yet supporters of the bill note that consumers actively provide their information to Google and Facebook by searching and sharing. They only passively give their information to broadband providers — by simply using the Internet.
The vote marks an early blow for the tech industry, which is working to adapt to the new Trump administration and Republican Congress.
The new FCC administration halted the privacy rules from taking effect earlier this month. The FCC declined to comment on the Senate vote.