Ever notice that when you go shopping online, whether it’s for a big thing like a new car or something as small as a bottle of aspirin, ads for whatever you were shopping for start to show up in your Facebook and Twitter feeds and on other web pages you visit?
If you like being pursued by advertisers this way, thank Congress; action there on Tuesday dramatically increased the likelihood that you’ll soon be seeing even more such ads. But if you’d prefer that merchants leave you alone until you go looking for their wares and that your browsing habits remain your business – not theirs – well, too bad.
A resolution that narrowly passed the House on Tuesday will allow your internet provider to sell information about your browsing and thus help advertisers put even more ads on your smartphone, tablet, laptop or desktop screen – all without asking for your permission.
Senators passed the same resolution last week, so only President Trump now stands between advertisers and a wide-open door into your online life. Press reports today suggest that Trump is likely to sign the measure, which would negate a Federal Communications Commission regulation approved in the waning days of the Obama administration.
The resolution is “a perversion of what the internet was supposed to be,” said former FCC Commisioner Michael Copps, now special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. If signed by Trump, it will be a financial bonanza for major internet providers like Verizon and Comcast, he suggested
“Big Cable and Big Telecom have struck again,” Copps said. “By doing the industry’s bidding, the congressional majority is wiping away common sense protections for the privacy of internet users’ personal data and browsing history. If this bill is signed by the president, broadband providers will have free rein to sell user data to the highest bidder - without ever informing consumers.”
Defenders of the resolution argue that the FCC overstepped its authority in requiring that internet providers get users’ permission before selling information about their browsing history and habits. Web sites like Google and Facebook already track traffic on their pages and tailor ads to appeal to the preferences of their visitors; the legislation sent to Trump lets internet providers do the same thing.
But critics note that internet users who don’t like the way Google or Facebook share their information can stay off those websites; most people use only one internet service provider however, and that company can track every move they make.
During Tuesday’s House debate, Rep. Michael Capuano, D-MA, noted that internet providers typically have a portal into each user’s home or office. One internet company has applied for a patent for a cable box that would use a thermal camera to detect whether people were cuddling on the couch, then show them TV commercials for a romantic getaway or contraceptives. “That’s what this bill will allow, and you can’t turn it off,” he said.
Office: Common Cause National
Issues: Media and Democracy
Tags: Broadband for All