House votes to kill FCC's privacy rules for ISPs

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai praised the repeal of the rules. Image: FCC

As expected, the U.S. House voted late Tuesday to roll back privacy rules for internet service providers (ISPs), sending the measure on to President Donald Trump.

The rules, which were put in place by the FCC last August, but had yet to take effect, essentially prohibit wireless carriers and other ISPs from sharing customers’ personal data with third parties without users’ consent. Mobile network operators have complained that the rule hampers efforts to monetize information on customers’ behavior via advertising, giving internet-based companies such as Facebook and Google—which don’t actually provide broadband services—an unfair edge.

The rules, which were adopted under then-President Barack Obama, required ISPs to obtain users’ permission before using data such as financial and health information and browsing histories for marketing purposes. They also applied to location information, which is particularly valuable for advertisers looking to target consumers on their phones.

The move comes as mobile operators are aggressively expanding into digital media and advertising in an effort to offset slowing growth in the U.S. wireless market. Verizon, AT&T and others compile vast amounts of data from their customers that can be used to deliver highly effective—and highly lucrative—targeted advertisements.

Companies that operate websites are governed by the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces a less-restrictive set of privacy rules.

Yesterday’s 215-205 vote fell largely along party lines, although more than a dozen Republicans voted against it. The Senate last week voted 50-48 in favor of the measure.

The White House said Tuesday that Trump strongly supports the repeal, Reuters reported.

“Appropriately, Congress has passed a resolution to reject this approach of picking winners and losers before it takes effect,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a prepared statement following Tuesday’s vote. “Moving forward, I want the American people to know that the FCC will work with the FTC to ensure that consumers’ online privacy is protected through a consistent and comprehensive framework. In my view, the best way to achieve that result would be to return jurisdiction over broadband providers’ privacy practices to the FTC, with its decades of experience and expertise in that area.”

Consumer advocacy groups were quick to condemn the measure, however.

“Big cable and big telecom have struck again,” said Michael Copps, a former FCC commissioner who now serves as a special adviser to Common Cause. “Congress is shuttering the open internet by allowing giant internet service providers to sell our personal data and browsing history to advertisers without even asking us. What a perversion of what the internet was supposed to be.”