Congress: Internet Firms Can Share (Sell) Your User Activity

John Lister's picture

Congress has voted to ditch rules that would have made it harder for broadband companies to share personal user data with third party companies. The vote means Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations will not take effect.

The rules were adopted by the FCC last October and covered broadband and wireless providers, but not websites such as Google or Facebook. Had they taken effect, the rules would have meant Internet providers could not share key data - for example with advertisers - without the explicit consent of customers. This data included browsing history, details of the apps people had used, and their location.

The rules also required providers to tell customers what data they did collect, as well as strengthening rules that force providers to tell customers if they suffer a data breach.

FCC Regulation a Hot Topic

The adoption and implementation of such rules is a politically controversial topic. As things stand, the FCC considers broadband Internet to be a communications service rather than an information service. That gives the FCC great regulatory powers that are similar to those which apply to voice calls over telephone lines.

Unless and until that classification is changed, the FCC has the power to make rules. Those rules have legal force unless Congress specifically passes legislation to override or remove them.

In this case, the rules passed in October never actually took effect. When the FCC makes rules, there's a delay before they come into force. During that delay, the fallout of the elections led to a change in the personnel and political allegiances of the commissioners that decide FCC policy. That led to a vote to delay the implementation of the rules. (Source:

Politicians Split Over Effect of Rules

Now both the Senate and the House of Representatives have backed legislation to nullify the rules, meaning they are effectively wiped out. The legislation will need the President's signature to become law, but the White House has already indicated that is a formality. (Source:

Politicians who voted in favor of throwing out the rules said they would be unfair as they would restrict the activities of Internet providers, but not websites. Supporters of the rule say that's OK because people can choose whether or not to use individual websites, but must deal with an Internet provider to get online.

What's Your Opinion?

Do you support the rules that have now been thrown out? Does the FCC have too much power over Internet providers or do they need regulation? Do you favor an opt-in or opt-out principle when it comes to customer data being shared?

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Dennis Faas's picture

As I mentioned before, there is something called a "super cookie" where ISPs track user activity. So, if you think you're doing yourself a service by blocking cookies on websites - you're wasting your time. You will be tracked, regardless. Besides that, browser cookies are needed to login to websites and perform other functions. By blocking browser cookies, you will be breaking website functionality 9 times out of 10. I hate to say it but that is the truth. Most people don't want to be tracked, but the fact is there will always be technology to overcome these principles and companies will profit from it. This story is just an example. If you don't want to be tracked, don't use the Internet and certainly don't use a smartphone.

matt_2058's picture

Government needs to make up it's mind. Either they're going to get into this stuff or not. Watch out for the consumers or completely step back. At one time, wasn't there something about classifying ISPs as a utility? Since so many people and businesses utilize the internet nowadays? Isn't it starting to be serious competition to the brick-and-mortar business of this country? I don't see anything wrong with that. The Government has already started walking in that direction by subsidizing ISP service, along with cell service, for many of those eligible for government benefits.

I realize that an ISP can track all activity, and that's ok. It't the unregulated sharing and selling of that info I have a problem with. A consumer should be able to control the dissemination of their own information. Or at least choose who gets it by choosing who to do business with.

sytruck_8413's picture

So what can be done? Would a VPN work?

Dennis Faas's picture

A VPN would work, depending on what you are attempting to achieve. Refer to this article here as an example.