Congress Repeals FCC Internet Privacy Rules

Yesterday the book Crunchy Cons by Rod Dreher (who right now is receiving much attention for his new book The Benedict Option) was waiting on my front porch when I returned home from work. It’s a book I have wanted to read for quite some time and finally bought a used copy. The book is about how some conservatives are returning to a form of conservatism that is actually interesting in conserving things — freedom, education, family life, natural resources, beauty, liberty, Christianity, etc — rather than purely focusing on economic strength and accumulating…stuff.

The back of the book includes Dreher’s “Crunchy Con Manifesto” of nine bullet pointsincluding the following:

  • Modern conservatism has become too focused on money, power, and the accumulation of stuff, and insufficiently concerned with the content of our individual and social character.
  • Big Business deserves as much skepticism as big government.

At the same time I scanned the Crunchy Con points on the back cover, conservatives in Congress were (and still are) in the process of sending President Trump a bill to repeal FCC Internet privacy rules that require giant telecom corporations to ask their users to “opt-in” to them storing and sharing private user data rather than allowing them to do this automatically. They use this information (among many ways) to build profiles on people to sell the advertisers so they can send us eerily targeted ads. The data storage is also ripe for abuse as we already know by the tens of thousands of (known) data requests by the government recently.

Republicans argue this levels the playing field with websites like Google and Facebook who are already allowed to collect data on their users and have a sort of monopoly over online advertising. But why are we so concerned by leveling the playing field for giant corporations to compete with each other when the currency to do so is our very intimate, private information? Maybe the answer is cracking down on Google and Facebook rather than allowing telecom providers to do the same.

Quoting from the Wall Street Journal:

What if your telecom company tracked the websites you visit, the apps you use, the TV shows you watch, the stores you shop at and the restaurants you eat at, and then sold that information to advertisers?

In theory, it’s possible, given the stance Washington is taking on online privacy. Lawmakers on Tuesday voted to overturn privacy rules that required telecom companies to get customers’ permission before sharing their web-browsing and app usage history with third parties. 

The telecom providers had argued the rules put them at a competitive disadvantage to online ad giants Google and Facebook, which generally aren’t regulated by the FCC.

Google and Facebook have built huge businesses powered by reams of data they collect about consumers’ online actions, both on their own properties and across the web. That trove of information largely explains their dominance — combined, they have a roughly 47% share of the global digital ad market, according to eMarketer.

But online advertising executives say telecom providers potentially have access to more powerful data than the two tech powerhouses. Their networks — both wired and wireless — could give them a window into nearly everything a user is doing on the web.

“ISPs like Verizon can now start building and selling profiles about consumers that include their friends, the news articles they read, where they shop, where they bank, along with their physical location,”…

For example, a wireless provider might track which websites and apps a consumer uses, in addition to their location, and use that information to help determine which products they’re likely to purchase.

If a consumer uses the same telecom provider for wireless, broadband and TV service, the provider could, in theory, track the majority of that consumer’s online behavior and media consumption.

Is this really what conservative voters want? I doubt it. It’s telling that the Republicans, who can’t seem to agree on anything important right now, are able to quickly come together to do something so pro-big business at the expense of everyday Americans. Political conservatives in this country tend to be more pro-privacy than their liberal counterparts so why don’t the politicians they voted for reflect that? To the contrary, this is the first thing to likely be signed into law with their new president? Until there’s more information suggesting there are benefits not being properly reported, what a disgrace. ☩

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