AT&T, Verizon, others OK to sell user data after Trump signs repeal

Trump With Hand Raised
Donald Trump signed a resolution blocking the implementation of Obama-era privacy rules for ISPs

Donald Trump signed a resolution Monday repealing the FCC’s privacy rules for internet service providers (ISPs), officially blocking implementation of the Obama-era policies.

The rules, which the FCC put in place last August but had yet to take effect, essentially prohibited wireless carriers and other ISPs from sharing customers’ personal data with third parties without users’ consent. Mobile network operators have complained that the rule hampered 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 U.S. Senate voted 50-48 two weeks to eliminate the rules, and the U.S. House approved the rollback last week.

“President Trump and Congress have appropriately invalidated one part of the Obama-era plan for regulating the internet,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in prepared remarks. “American consumers’ privacy deserves to be protected regardless of who handles their personal information. In order to deliver that consistent and comprehensive protection, the Federal Communications Commission will be working with the Federal Trade Commission to restore the FCC’s authority to police internet service providers’ privacy practices.”

The move comes as wireless network operators such as Verizon and AT&T move aggressively into digital media and advertising. Those carriers are moving aggressively to deliver highly targeted—and therefore highly lucrative—ads leveraging data such as location, browsing history and a host of other information.

Verizon last week drew unwanted headlines when reports surfaced that it planned to roll out a new search app across its Android device portfolios to help users find content from within their various apps. The Electronic Frontier Foundation initially blasted the app as “spyware,” but then withdrew its post after Verizon disclosed more information about the software.

Verizon, AT&T and Comcast all insisted earlier this week that they had no plans to sell customers’ browsing histories despite the repeal of the FCC’s rules. Nonetheless, consumer advocacy groups were quick to slam the repeal as a gift to multibillion-dollar corporations.

“Donald Trump said he was going to drain the swamp, but it didn’t take long for the swamp to drain him,” said Evan Greer, campaign director for the digital rights group Fight for the Future, in a press release. “(T)he only people in the United States who want less internet privacy are CEOs and lobbyists for giant telecom companies who want to rake in money by spying on all of us and selling the private details of our lives to marketing companies.”