Technology

Ad Industry, Broadband Carriers Cheer Senate Vote To Scrap Privacy Rules

The vote was to repeal an Obama-era Federal Communications Commission rule requiring internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon to gain customers' permission before selling their information to third-party companies.

Today the Senate voted along party lines to dismantle the FCC's broadband privacy rules.

The FCC rules are confusing and costly and "make the internet an uneven playing field", said Senator Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican and Senate majority leader.

The regulations were set to go into effect in February, but were halted by current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

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In a joint statement, Democratic members of the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission said the Senate vote "creates a massive gap in consumer protection law as broadband and cable companies now have no discernible privacy requirements".

The rules had previously been approved by United States broadband watchdog the FCC and were due to take effect at the start of March, but new FCC chair Ajit Pai - who originally voted against them - killed them off with a 2-1 vote just days before. They said broadband providers would have to operate under tougher privacy requirements than digital-advertising behemoths like Google and Facebook.

"Americans lost a crucial right today as the GOP-controlled Senate voted to overturn the only federal protection that could have protected their privacy online", Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy said in an email.

"The Senate effectively voted to remove the previous rules "and, under the authority of the Congressional Review Act, prevent similar rules from being enacted", TechCrunch reports".

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Regulations created to give consumers more control over their online privacy appear to be dead before they were even set to begin.

"Today's vote should trigger the European Union to begin reviewing the so-called "Privacy Shield" agreement allowing data to flow between the EU to the US", he said. Edward Markey (D) in a statement following the vote. He also argued they gave an unfair advertising advantage to websites like Google and Facebook, since the rules only governed broadband service providers and other telecommunications carriers. Flake is chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy and technology. The rules also establish deadlines for breach notifications, require clear notification to customers of what data is being collected and how it is being used, and prevent "take-it-or-leave-it" offers-conditioning service on allowing data sharing.

A trade association of broadband service providers and suppliers, USTelecom, hailed the move as a "win for consumers" - rather than a boon for industry - and a step toward harmonizing privacy standards across the internet. The CRA not only reverses the rules, but also dictates the agency behind the policy can not re-introduce the rules.

"During the drafting of the rule, the FTC raised substantial concerns about the FCC's proposed rule", said Jon Leibowitz, co-chair of the 21st Century Privacy Coalition and former FTC chair under President Obama. The FTC also suggests that companies should obtain opt-in consent before sharing a narrow category of "sensitive" data - including health information and precise location data.

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