Sen. Jeff Flake’s bill wipes out the FCC’s landmark rule for Internet privacy protection

Arizona Senator Jef Flake does not believe in your privacy on the Internet. In fact, he believes that everything you do on the Internet, from your personal information, browsing history, the apps you use, etc. is fair game for your Internet service provider (ISP) to compile a personal profile on you and to use that information for their profit, as well as to sell to third parties.

Senn. Flake introduced S.J.Res. 34, a joint resolution of congressional disapproval of the FCC rule relating to “Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and Other Telecommunications Services.”

Last week the Senate voted on a party-line vote of 50-48 to undo landmark rules covering your Internet privacy:

U.S. senators voted 50 to 48 to approve a joint resolution from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) that would prevent the Federal Communications Commission’s privacy rules from going into effect. The resolution also would bar the FCC from ever enacting similar consumer protections.

Flake’s measure aims to nullify the FCC’s privacy rules altogether.

Today, House Tea-Publicans voted overwhelmingly, by a margin of 215-205, to to wipe out the FCC’s landmark Internet privacy protections:

The resolution marks a sharp, partisan pivot toward letting Internet providers collect and sell their customers’ Web browsing history, location information, health data and other personal details.

The measure, which was approved by a 50-48 margin in the Senate last week, now heads to the White House, where President Trump is expected to sign it.

Congress’s joint resolution empowers Internet providers to enter the $83 billion market for online advertising now dominated by Google and Facebook. It is likely to lend momentum to a broader GOP rollback of Obama-era technology policies, and calls into question the fate of other tech regulations such as net neutrality, which was approved in 2015 over strident Republican objections and bans Internet providers from discriminating against websites. And it is a sign that companies such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon will be treated more permissively at a time when conservatives control both the executive and legislative branches.

* * *

No longer satisfied with selling access to the Web, Internet providers are increasingly invested in the data their users generate as they visit one website after another. By understanding what content they consume — whether that be Netflix, WebMD or PornHub — providers may glean an enormous amount of information about Americans.

* * *

And unlike search engines or streaming video sites, which consumers can easily abandon if they do not agree with their privacy practices, it is far more difficult to choose a different Internet provider. Many Americans have a choice of only one or two broadband companies in their area, according to federal statistics.

Privacy advocates called the House vote “a tremendous setback for America.”

“Today’s vote means that Americans will never be safe online from having their most personal details stealthily scrutinized and sold to the highest bidder,” said Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. “Donald Trump, by giving away our data to the country’s leading phone and cable giants, is further undermining American democracy.”

The rules were repealed using the Congressional Review Act, which was used only once before the Trump administration, but has been implemented seven times since January. This means the FCC cannot issue any “substantially similar” rules in the future.

The acronym “ISP” should now stand for “Information Sold For Profit” and “Invading Subscriber Privacy,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) during last week’s debate over the bill in the Senate. (h/t MotherJones).

So, what does this mean for consumers? Congress Just Gave Internet Providers the Green Light to Sell Your Browsing History Without Consent:

Dallas Harris, a policy fellow at the privacy advocacy group Public Knowledge, told Gizmodo that they’ll “have to take their privacy into their own hands.” Practically speaking, Harris said, this means you should “get online right now, get on your ISP’s website” and opt out of having your data sold. It might also mean getting a VPN—a private network that routes all traffic through its servers—though you’d have to pick one you trust not to sell your data, too. Harris also fears that the repeal will have a “chilling effect” on broadband adoption among those who still aren’t online.

As the Electronic Frontier Foundation has pointed out, there are also serious implications for security: If ISPs look to sell consumer data, “internet providers will need to record and store even more sensitive data on their customers, which will become a target for hackers.” Even if they anonymize your sensitive data before they sell it to advertisers, they need to collect it first—and these companies don’t exactly have a perfect track record in protecting consumer data. In 2015, for example, Comcast paid $33 million as part of a settlement for accidentally releasing information about users who had paid the company to keep their phone numbers unlisted, including domestic violence victims.

This is all made much more difficult for consumers by the dearth of broadband competition. More than half of Americans have either one or even no options for providers, so if you don’t like your ISP’s data collection policies, chances are you won’t be able to do much about it, and providers know that. It’s highly unlikely that providers, particularly the dominant companies, will choose to forego those sweet advertising dollars in order to secure their customers’ privacy, when they know those customers don’t have much choice.

* * *

All is not completely lost. Your ISP still has to allow you to opt out of having your data sold, so you can call them or go online to find out how to do that. . . . But today’s news is devastating for privacy overall. Consumers could have had more control over their privacy; your data could have been safer. Things could have been better, if Congress had done what it usually does and done nothing. Instead, they made things worse for anyone who doesn’t run an internet company or an advertising agency. There’s no policy justification and no public interest in doing this; consumers are deeply fearful, in fact, about their privacy online. It was an action solely designed to benefit some already very rich companies that barely anyone wanted.

If you care about your privacy online, you should contact Senator Flake to give him a piece of your mind, as well as every Tea-Publican in the Arizona congressional delegation who voted in favor of his resolution.

10 Responses to Sen. Jeff Flake’s bill wipes out the FCC’s landmark rule for Internet privacy protection

  1. Frances Perkins

    Even Republicans and Libertarians should be offended by this. Disgusting.

  2. For Sure Not Tom

    I just went to Cox and opted out. Please do this now.

    Unlike FaceBook or Gmail where you need to identify yourself by logging in, your ISP cannot tell who is using the internet.

    That means your children, your family, all will have their data collected and sold.

    They use the data against you, not just to market to you, but to price things like insurance, and the data is used by employers as well.

    They sell the data to political groups who use it to influence you. They will read everything you post here, and have a name to go with it. Depending on your employer that may not matter to you, but it should.

    I work in IT, I cannot tell you how bad this is. Flake is scum.

    FYI, every few months, you need to review your privacy settings, they change the rules all the time. You may get a notice mailed, with five pages of tiny print, or you may not get a notice at all.

    If they ever offer cheaper rates, or even a free connection, in exchange for collecting your data, say no, the price is too great.

    Next time Flake is dropped off on an island for a reality TV show, we need to leave him there.

    • Do you have any information about how to opt out with Cox? I would like to do the same thing, but I don’t want to have to delve through pages on the website or spend hours getting the end-around before I finally find the individual who can do so.

      • You can go to https://www.cox.com/
        If you’re a customer, it will probably redirect you to https://www.cox.com/residential/home-cc.html
        Click where it says Sign In / My Account
        Sign in using your cox email address plus password.
        On the new page, click where it says View My Profile.
        Near the bottom there should be a box for Promotional Preferences; click where it says Edit Preferences.
        Check all the Do Not … boxes
        Click Save Changes.

        ==========

        As others have mentioned, check back often. They are sneaky about changing things in such a way that old preferences disappear.

        In any case, note that they *really* want to sell your data, and they will stop at almost nothing to do so.

        • For Sure Not Tom

          Sign up for a VPN service as well.

          A Virtual Private Network is a encrypted connection that your ISP cannot read. It may help protect from some forms of attacks as well.

          There are free VPN services, but you need to be careful and understand their policy on logging traffic.

          After a little research I’m signing up for privateinternetaccess dot com, they do not record your internet use, but it is about 40 dollars a year.

          A few dollars a month is worth it, because they will use your data for setting insurance rates, hiring/firing, lending, renting, and political causes you may not agree with.

          Also, learn how to delete the cookies and browsing history for your browser. Most of the cookies used so the website remembers you are also tracking you. Note you will need to remember passwords to websites if you delete the cookie, a small inconvenience.

          Your personal data is valuable, don’t give it away cheap or at all.

      • Yes, Go to COX, then to “My Profile”, then scroll to bottom of this page to: “Promotional Preferences”, and check them all. 🙂

        • Then go to “Password and Security” tab, scroll down to “Privacy Preferences” and click NO……That should do it. 🙂

  3. Robert Francis

    Well good, More action like this will support more action against these money grubbers. These guys win by slim margins, mostly from the state of Maricopa, and curtesy of cash backing them to convince supporters suffering from severe cases of Dunning-Kroger syndrome that they are the chosen one to lead. I am seeing more people upset with their representatives and taking action, as well as less fear in the Hispanic community to stand up against conservative ideology. Also, I can’t believe the bedsheet size campaign signs McSally had on every corner in Tucson,,,,shouldn’t there be a city ordinance on something like that before we start seeing bill boards at street level? Or at least allow other to put their sign up in front of the bed sheet held up by rebar. The pendulum will swing back, they can’t hold the sand in their hands for long at the rate they offend the voting public.

  4. the best way to show disapproval is to run a real democrat against him instead of some rich old white running on their ego trip with paid consultants telling them to appeal to republicans who loathe democrats instead of latinos who want to vote for real democrats who look out for them. that way your call to him will mean more then the lobbyist$$$.

    money talks bullish*t call and whine. run a real democrat against him and not some rich old white on an ego trip. who will be told by paid consultants to appeal to republicans who loathe democrats and don’t appeal to latinos who want to vote for democrats who appeal to them.

    0.

    money talks and flake assumes democrats will run another rich old white on another ego trip. who’s paid consultants will tell them to appeal to republicans who loathe democrats instead of appealing to latinos because the establishment is afraid of young raul grivjalda’s! ask goddard in 2010 duval in 2014 or ann kirkpatrick in 2016 how well that worked. ex-sheriff arpaio can tell you how well it works when you go after the hispanic vote!

  5. Please call senator Flake and let him know how much you appreciate him selling out our privacy and making illegal to ever take it back. He does not work for the citizens, he is a corporate whore. DC 202.224.4521 Phx 602.840.1891