Almost as if it was taken from George Orwell’s dystopian novel 1984, the United States Congress has voted to repeal Internet privacy laws. According to the Washington Post and other sources, ISPs will now be able to sell their users’ browsing history without needing permission. Yes Big Brother is watching, and it has familiar names like Comcast, AT&T, Verizon and others. Additionally, this bill prevents the protections from coming back in the future. All of these actions are taken in the name of protecting the public from too much regulation.
On websites, you can always leave if you don’t agree with the terms. Now, you’ll leave yourself open to more advertisers, hackers, and data mining companies, just by using the net. The online advertising industry is an 83 billion dollar business, and that number will surely skyrocket. Perhaps you don’t mind some advertising. Well, this move also grants the ability to the ISPs to track you no matter where you go online, even if you are using the privacy modes of popular browsers.
With the exception of very few members of the Congress, the votes went down party lines. There were 15 Republican reps that voted against the bill, and 6 that abstained. There were no votes for this bill on the Democrat side. That brings the totals to 216 for, 205 against, and 9 abstentions. Even if all votes were cast for one side or the other, it would not have made a difference.
The intentions of this bill were to lessen the amount of regulation users faced. In theory, the prices will go down because the providers are making their money in other ways. It should also spur competition for advertising dollars. Unfortunately, these changes are not likely to happen. The providers won’t want to miss out on any of the money they already receive. As far as competition goes, many cable companies still operate under an “agreement” that says they won’t go in to a territory that belongs to another company.
In many cases, the 2016 elections were run on a platform of being good for the citizens. However, it is hard to see any real benefit for the average American. The only benefits that might be seen are from politicians gaining future campaign funds. There has already been some backlash against members of Congress because of this bill.
Looking at this bill as a member of the privacy community, it is unsettling to see this kind of reversal of policy. Sadly, there is not much that can be done about it. As we have discovered about other laws, once they are in place, it is hard to get rid of them. All of these things said, the best way to protect yourself in these dark ages of Internet privacy is to use a VPN.