The U.S. House of Representatives voted Tuesday to repeal regulations requiring internet providers to obtain consumer consent to sell private information to advertisers. The vote was mostly split along party lines, 215-205; 15 Republicans sided with House Democrats, while nine representatives did not vote.
The U.S. Senate passed the changes last week, and it is expected to be signed into law by President Donald Trump. The regulations would have required internet providers to obtain consumer consent before using geolocation, financial and health information, and web browsing history for advertising purposes. With a vote to repeal, ISPs do not need consumer consent to share this information.
Concerns around user privacy online has sparked an interest in VPN services, according to NordVPN. The company said it has seen a sharp increase in inquiries from American internet users worried about their privacy – an 86 percent increase in inquiries in the last few days alone.
“Such spikes in user interest in VPNs are not unusual – whenever a government announces increase in surveillance, people turn to privacy tools,” NordVPN’s CMO Marty P. Kamden said in a statement. “We saw similar spikes back in November when U.K. passed the law dubbed ‘The Snoopers Charter’ or after the revelation about CIA surveillance by the Wikileaks. We are worried about the global tendency to invade Internet users’ privacy, and we are glad we can offer a reliable tool that helps people keep their information private. We want to stress that privacy tools are needed every day, not only during such moments – to protect yourself from ever-growing online security threats and increasing surveillance.”
According to TorrentFreak, other VPN providers have spoken out against the bill in the press and have used it as an opportunity to promote their services.
The value of personal information to ISPs was revealed when AT&T introduced its discount program based on its tracking program “Internet Preferences,” which charged an additional $29 a month per household to those who did not opt-in.
“Much of the narrative surrounding this debate centers on the fear that consumers will have no privacy protection if the president signs the resolution,” said Ryan Radia, Research Fellow and Regulatory Counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute in a blog post. “But these fears, simply put, are based on a myopic understanding of the numerous laws, regulations, and institutions that protect our privacy on the Internet other than the FCC’s burdensome, legally questionable privacy rule.”
During the Senate debate last week, Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said ISP should be considered an acronym for “Information Sold for Profit” or “Invading Subscriber Privacy,” according to Ars Technica.
“This breaks with the decades long legal tradition that your communications provider is never allowed to monetize your personal information without asking for your permission first,” responded Electronic Frontier Foundation Legislative Counsel Ernesto Falcon in a blog post, among the many statements of disappointment by privacy and internet rights’ advocates. “This will harm our cybersecurity as these companies become giant repositories of personal data. It won’t be long before the government begins demanding access to the treasure trove of private information Internet providers will collect and store.”