Senate Dismantles Obama-Era Internet Privacy Protections

March 24, 2017 - 3 minutes read

For app developers concerned with privacy, yesterday was a dark day.

Senate Republicans passed a bill eliminating privacy regulations imposed on broadband providers by the FCC during the final months of the Obama presidency. Those protections would have required ISPs to get consent from the consumer before selling off personal information to a third party.

If the House passes its version of the law in the coming weeks — and it’s widely expected to, given its healthy Republican majority — our browsing habits, purchase histories, locations, and so much more will soon belong to advertisers, or whoever else is willing to pay for them.

The Republican line is that this is a rollback of unnecessary regulations and a way to put the ISPs on the same footing as platforms like Google and Facebook, who fall under the more lax Federal Trade Commission’s jurisdiction rather than the FCC’s. But that argument doesn’t hold for privacy-minded New York City mobile app developers. It looks as if we are entering an era where the telecom companies that stand as the gatekeepers to the internet will be able to sell dossiers of our private activity, whether we like it or not.

It seems like the sort of thing the whole populace should be outraged about, but the issue remains somewhat obscure to the general public. When net neutrality came under threat in 2014, the internet lit up with widespread outrage. This adjacent issue hasn’t raised the same kind of outcry, likely because the bill was passed quietly at a time when there is so much to get worked up about.

With millions of Americans’ health care up in the air, a tense Supreme Court confirmation in progress, and an ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the election, the Senate Republicans’ attack on our privacy rights seems to have snuck in under the radar.

With the Trump-installed net neutrality critic Chairman Ajit Pai at the helm of the FCC, many app developers expect that this is only the beginning of their worst fears about internet privacy coming to fruition. All mobile app developers who cherish internet privacy as we do can contact their representatives and express their disgust with the bill when it comes to the House. This legislation hurts the tech community at large by undermining the public’s faith in tech to safeguard personal data.

But more importantly, it hurts anyone who uses the internet and does not want to be tracked for profit — so essentially everyone.

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