Editorial: Government shouldn't allow broadband companies to sell customers' private info
Posted March 31
A CBC Editorial: Friday, March 31, 2017; Editorial # 8142
The following is the opinion of Capitol Broadcasting Company
The White House has announced that President Donald Trump intends to sign an ill-conceived law that allows internet service providers to collect and sell information about the websites we visit and the apps we use.
The president’s signature will be the culmination of a well-financed effort to reverse a decision by the Federal Communications Commission to require broadband companies to get permission from their subscribers first before selling their internet use behavior.
These companies, along with many in the wireless industry, contend that personal web browsing and app use histories and other data – including Social Security numbers -- are not sensitive personal information.
The bill narrowly cleared the U.S. Senate on a 50-48 vote – with North Carolina’s senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis voting for it.
Imagine banks, without even telling you, selling information about who you write checks to or where your deposits come from.
These internet service providers, companies like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T, contend they are merely seeking the ability to fairly compete for lucrative online advertising dollars in the same way that Google, Netflix and Facebook do in selling information about how their site users behave.
But there are significant differences. Online users make personal choices about the search engines they use; movie and entertainment sites they subscribe to and social networking services they visit.
On the other hand, American consumers are forced to subscribe to an internet service provider to get online and that’s where choice evaporates. In many places, particularly in rural communities, there are limited, or more likely no choices in service providers. As a result, these companies take on the role of utilities and can force consumers to “take it or leave it.“ That’s very different from choosing to use services like Facebook or Twitter.
The new law not only allows broadband companies to sell personal browsing data, it doesn’t require the company to tell customers when their information might have been hacked.
The unfortunate reality of this latest action is that Congress and the president seem to be putting profits for online service providers before the common sense privacy concerns of internet users.
It needs to be a requirement that internet service providers give their customers a clear and complete explanation of their privacy policies that states what information they collect and to whom they might sell it.
Additionally, consumers should be able to access the information that is being collected about them – at no additional charge. Finally, they should have the ability to “opt out” of any distribution of their personal information so they can avoid being bombarded with unsolicited appeals and advertising.
There is the possibility that this knee-jerk deregulation could backfire. Once consumers start getting flooded with advertising and solicitations they’ll come looking for those who are responsible and hit the delete button on Election Day.
* * *
WHO VOTED FOR THE DEREGULATION AND HOW MUCH CAMPAIGN MONEY DID THEY GET FROM THE ISP INDUSTRY DURING THE MOST RECENT ELECTION CYCLE (compiled by National Institute on Money in State Politics – www.followthemoney.org)
SENATE VOTING FOR:
- Richard Burr ($58,500)
- Thom Tillis ($41,220)
HOUSE VOTING FOR:
- Theodore Budd ($10,000)
- Virginia Foxx ($13,250)
- George Holding ($31,100)
- Richard Hudson ($45,400)
- Patrick McHenry ($51,000)
- Mark Meadows ($4,000)
- David Rouzer ($15,000)
- Bradley Walker ($16,750)
HOUSE VOTING AGAINST:
- Alma Adams
- G.K. Butterfield
- Walter Jones
- David Price
HOUSE NOT VOTING:
- Robert Pittenger