The US Congress decided to repeal an Internet privacy regulation passed under the Obama administration. For many, this is unsettling news.
Trump has already initialed the controversial repeal, which allows Internet providers to store and sell users’ browsing histories. The previous regulation, however, required these companies to obtain permission from their users before collecting such data and selling it to advertisers or third parties.
The measure benefits telecom giants like Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T, who want to squeeze all the profit they can out of that data to customize ads directed at their customers. Allegedly, the telecom companies demanded that the measure be taken because, according to their arguments, Google and Facebook already enjoyed the benefits of amassing user data.
So what does this new legislation really mean for Americans? And how will Europe be affected?
Before the new law was passed, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a non-profit organization that advocates rights and freedoms on the internet, described some possible consequences of the legislation.
Obviously, selling data about location and demographics to advertisers is one of the most alarming aspects of the new measures. But in addition to questions of privacy and personal data, the old regulation and the FCC also protected clients’ financial information, health-related data, social security numbers, and children’s information that may now be collected by service providers without the explicit consent of the user.
And to make matters more troubling, the EFF fears that these companies may end up ransacking users’ search history. In 2011, a study showed that some service providers were redirecting search traffic from certain keywords to the websites of some brands.
Some other scenarios that are causing concern: companies could foreseeably pre-install software on our phone to store all the URLs we visit or inject cookies to record all our browsing on unencrypted (http://) connections.
Now that the repeal has been ratified with the votes of Republican congressmen, the EFF has also offered some advice to users on how to protect their privacy. Choosing a provider that guarantees privacy (although in many places, such providers are few and far between), installing the “HTTPS Everywhere” extension to make sure the connection is secure, or connecting through a VPN are a few of their suggestions.
Some states, however, may react with regulations of their own. Minnesota, for example, has already passed legislation that would prevent service providers from storing personal information without the consent of customers.
Of course, in the European Union, privacy is a different matter and is, for the moment, completely secure. A European General Data Protection Regulation has already entered into force prohibiting the kind of trickery going on in the US, since users’ express consent is required for operators to be able to sell their data.