Se­nate votes to kill on­line info pri­vacy rules

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Tali Ar­bel and Richard Lard­ner

new york» The Se­nate voted to kill Obama-era on­line pri­vacy reg­u­la­tions, a first step to­ward al­low­ing in­ter­net providers such as Com­cast, AT&T and Ver­i­zon to sell your brows­ing habits and other per­sonal in­for­ma­tion as they ex­pand their own on­line ad busi­nesses.

Those rules, not yet in ef­fect, would have re­quired in­ter­net providers to ask your per­mis­sion be­fore shar­ing your per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. That’s a much stronger pri­va­cypro­tec­tion weapon than let­ting them use your data un­til you tell them to stop. As any­one who has ever tried to stop get­ting tar­geted ads on the in­ter­net knows, opt­ing out is hard.

With­out those pro­tec­tions, con­sumer ad­vo­cates fear that broad­band providers will be able to do what they like with peo­ple’s data.

“Ad­ver­tis­ers and mar­keters are lin­ing up to get ac­cess to all the in­for­ma­tion that’s now avail­able about us,” said Jeff Ch­ester of the Cen­ter for Dig­i­tal Democ­racy, which ad­vo­cates for tougher in­ter­net pri­vacy mea­sures.

Of course, Google and Face­book al­ready track you. But pro­po­nents of the pri­vacy mea­sure ar­gued that the com­pany that sells you your in­ter­net con­nec­tion can see even more about you: ev­ery web­site you visit, ev­ery app that sends or re­ceives data, ev­ery­one you email and many that you mes­sage. Tele­com com­pa­nies ar­gue that com­pa­nies like Google know far more about users than they do.

Con­sumer ad­vo­cates also point out that it can be hard, in many ar­eas of the coun­try, to dump your ca­ble or phone com­pany for an­other one if you don’t like its prac­tices. Of course, it’s also hard to stop us­ing Google or Face­book.

Un­do­ing the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion’s reg­u­la­tion leaves peo­ple’s on­line in­for­ma­tion in a murky area. To­day, you can tell a broad­band provider not to use your data. Ex­perts say fed­eral law still re­quires broad­band providers to pro­tect cus­tomer in­for­ma­tion — but it doesn’t spell out how or what com­pa­nies must do.

That’s what the now en­dan­gered rules from the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion aimed to do. “There’s kind of a void,” said Perkins Coie tele­com at­tor­ney Marc Martin.

If the just-passed mea­sure also clears the House and is signed by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, no fu­ture FCC could pass the broad­band pri­vacy rules again with­out fur­ther change to U.S. law.

The Trump-ap­pointed chair­man of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is a critic of the broad­band pri­vacy rules and has said he wants to roll them back, along with other Obama-era poli­cies meant to pro­tect con­sumers and pro­mote com­pe­ti­tion.

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