In a major setback to those who value their online privacy in the United States, last week the House of Representatives voted to grant Internet service providers permission to sell subscribers’ browsing histories to third parties.
The bill repeals broadband privacy rules adopted last year by the Federal Communications Commission, which required ISPs to obtain subscribers’ consent before using their browsing records for advertising or marketing purposes.
Soon after, the Trump Administration officially announced its support for the bill, noting that the President’s advisors would advise him to sign it, should it be presented. Yesterday, that’s exactly what happened.
To howls of disapproval from Internet users and privacy advocates alike, President Trump signed into law a resolution that seriously undermines the privacy of all citizens using ISPs to get online in the US. The bill removes protections that were approved by the FCC in the final days of the Obama administration but had not yet gone into effect.
The dawning reality is that telecoms giants including Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, are now free to collect and leverage the browsing histories of subscribers – no matter how sensitive – in order to better target them with advertising and other marketing.
The White House says that the changes will simply create an “equal playing field” between ISPs and Internet platforms such as Google and Facebook, who are already able to collect data for advertising purposes.
The repeal has drawn criticism from all sides, with Mozilla’s Executive Director Mark Surman openly urging the public to fight back.
“The repeal should be a call to action. And not just to badger our lawmakers,” Surman said.
“It should be an impetus to take online privacy into our own hands.”
With the bill now signed into law, that’s the only real solution if people want to claw back their privacy. Surman has a few suggestions, including the use of Tor and encrypted messaging apps like Signal. But like so many others recently, he leads with the use of VPN technology.
As reported last week, Google searches for the term VPN reached unprecedented levels when the public realized that their data would soon be up for grabs.
That trend continued through the weekend, with many major VPN providers reporting increased interest in their products.
Only time will tell if interest from the mainstream will continue at similar levels. However, in broad terms, the recent public outcry over privacy is only likely to accelerate the uptake of security products and the use of encryption as a whole. It could even prove to be the wake-up call the Internet needed.