Issue in Focus
Mar 24 2017
“Senate Votes to Kill Privacy Rules Guarding Your Online Info,” ABC News blares.
“Senate Votes to Undo Internet Privacy Rules,” CNN claims.
“Senate Votes to Let ISPs Sell Your Data Without Consent,” MSNBC says.
Reading these headlines Friday morning you might think that the United States Senate just voted to massively change how the Internet was regulated in a way that would significantly undermine your privacy rights.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The reality is that the Senate voted Thursday to preserve the exact same rules that have protected consumers and allowed competition to thrive since the Internet was created decades ago.
Here are the facts: from the beginning of the Internet, both the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) you contract with for your home telecommunications needs (Comcast, Verizon, TimeWarner, etc.) and the companies you access on the Internet (Google, Amazon, Facebook, etc.) were both regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC created and enforced uniform privacy rules for both Internet providers and Internet firms.
But then in 2015 the Obama administration transferred regulatory control of ISPs from the FTC to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by reclassifying them as public utilities. They then began working on new privacy rules that would apply only to ISPs and not to the major firms such as Facebook that you actually send your data to on a daily basis. These new rules were not published until October 2016 and were scheduled to go into effect later this year.
If this proposed new regulatory situation doesn’t strike you as inherently unfair and nonsensical, consider a typical Americans interaction with ISPs and their favored Internet companies on a daily basis.
A typical American may wake up in the morning and check Gmail and Facebook on their home computer; this sends data to Google, Facebook, and their chosen home ISP. Then this American will hop in a car and access their Google Map and Spotify apps from their mobile phone; this sends their data to Google and Spotify and a completely different mobile ISP. This same American will then arrive at work or school where they will again send Google, Facebook and other apps their data and to a third, completely new ISP.
Why should these three separate ISPs be held to a more restrictive and expensive privacy standard than other Internet firms, such as Google, Facebook, and Spotify, especially when the latter are receiving and utilizing a far more comprehensive stream of personal data?
The American people very rightly have some privacy concerns about how their data is shared on the Internet. But Congress should tackle this issue in a comprehensive way that puts everyone on an equal playing field. The federal government should not be in the business of playing favorites with technology companies, which is why the Senate voted to rescind this regulation on Thursday.