Your Browser History and Other Personal Info Just Got a Lot Less Private

Mar 29, 2017

It didn't look like much from the outside. Just another vote recorded by the clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, with members saying "yea" or "nay." But some say the outcome of Tuesday's vote could have serious implications for the privacy of your personal information while you are online.

The purpose of the vote was to repeal a set of privacy rules that the Federal Communications Commission proposed last fall. The rules would have prevented Internet service providers from selling your browser history, location information, and other personal details to advertisers.

Republicans in the House won the vote, just as their counterparts in the Senate won a similar vote last week. A joint resolution by both parts of Congress repealing the rules now only requires the signature of President Trump to become law.

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Supporters of the vote say existing laws already protect people's privacy online. And they argue that the FCC rules would have unfairly restricted Internet providers, making it hard for them to compete against digital advertising behemoths like Google and Facebook. Privacy advocates, however, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Digital Democracy, say removing the FCC rules will create a free-for-all in which ISPs can sell their users' information to the highest bidder.

Critics of the move also see it as another step in the weakening of Obama-era Internet rules. Many believe this development could lead to the death of the principle of net neutrality, which prevents Internet providers from discriminating against content that is distributed through their networks. And that could change the Internet in even more dramatic ways.

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