It’s no revelation that personal communications and the means by which they are carried out, have been a growing concern for governmental purposes and Americans’ rights as we’ve all become more and more interdependent on our computers and telephones. The Federal Communication Commission studied the issue of online privacy for ten years, solicited public comment, deliberated openly, and ruled in 2016 that telecommunication and cable companies must not exploit the intimate relationships that consumers have with their phones and computers.
This was a serious policy process that effects virtually every American. The commission considered measured arguments for and against the rules for harvesting, using, and selling personal records of how we use the Internet. And experts working for the FCC weighed in with their informed opinions before the rule was approved last October.
Republicans in Senate and then House did the exact opposite this past week, voting along party lines to reverse the consumer protections. Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and other companies have long wished to leverage personal data, seeing Google and Facebook making billions from it through customized advertising revenue. Most web sites, including Bloomberg.com, track Web use in order to deliver relevant advertisements to users.
The ISP’s could not win a policy argument before the FCC, but once the Republican Party got control of Congress they wasted no time in seizing control of everyone’s vulnerability and acted quickly to strip Americans of their information, be it medical, personal, or inconsequential, so they could line their pockets with lobbyist money by simply allowing your internet provider to sell your browsing history to any and all takers.
Once President Trump signs this bill into law, as he has pledged to do as part of his assault on Obama-era regulation regardless of their value, these telecommunication companies will be able to monitor all manner of your data usage and cross-reference it with every user’s location, the time of day, and even the concentration of other service users. As more commerce occurs through phones, these companies could launch payment applications that muscle out similar services from Apple or Google. That kind of consumer data is especially valuable. Then, telecommunication companies could sell ads on the locked or home screen of a phone — something even Google and Facebook can’t do.
Beyond that, Congress is also removing regulations that made telecommunication companies responsible for the leaks of valuable — and possibly dangerous — private information through security breaches.
So instead of curtailing the abuses of Google, facebook, twitter and Snapchat, etc., and how they collect, store, and use consumer-generated information, for at least the next four years we are unlikely to see any of these institutions take the interests of the public seriously.
The best we can hope for out of this move is that Americans of all political persuasions move consumer protection, especially privacy, up in their list of concerns, but don’t hold your breath. Republicans have become stone cold money machines as long as it’s at the expense of the American public. While polls consistently show that Americans care about the issue — a Pew survey from 2015 showed that 93 percent of American adults say that being in control of who can get information about them is important — almost no one votes based on how a legislator or president protects their privacy.
Already we have seen commenters even on Trump’s favorite source of “news”, Breitbart.com. voice anger that Congress is pandering to anti-privacy lobbyists. Concern over possible federal warrantless surveillance of Trump associates and their dealings with major figures in Russia should generate privacy concerns among Trump critics as well as supporters. And Comcast remains one of most hated companies in America, down on the list with Goldman Sachs, Koch Industries, and BP.
A popular movement for privacy protection is possible — and hopefully it gains strength before a major privacy meltdown. But there’re only so many causes the people can rally around and the MSM will always be more concerned with the most salacious, issues at hand to drive their own profit agenda.
How Your Browsing Became a Corporate Profit Center
On Tuesday afternoon, while most people were focused on the latest news from the House Intelligence Committee, the GOP-controlled House quietly voted to undo rules that keep internet service providers — the companies like Comcast, Verizon and Charter that you pay for online access — from selling your personal information.
The Senate already approved the bill, on a party-line vote, last week, which means that in the coming days President Trump will be able to sign legislation that will obliterate your online privacy protection. I’d be very interested in just how this fits into “Making America Great Again”. Seriously.
The bill not only gives cable companies and wireless providers free rein to do what they like with your browsing history, shopping habits, your location and other information gleaned from your online activity, but it would also prevent the Federal Communications Commission from ever again establishing similar consumer privacy protections.
The bill is just another example that the GOP doesn’t really give a rip about your rights, much less state’s rights. The F.C.C.’s new Republican majority with GOP congressional majorities, will continue an all out assault to overturn simple but vitally important concepts — namely that the information that goes over a network belongs to you as the consumer, not to the network hired to carry it—being just the first of many.
It’s not even a new idea: For decades, in both Republican and Democratic administrations, federal rules have protected the privacy of the information in a telephone call. In 2016, the F.C.C., under President Barack Obama, extended those same protections to the internet.
The digital tracks that a consumer leaves when using a network are the property of that consumer. They contain private information about personal preferences, health problems and financial matters. Our Republican argue that the data should be available for the network to sell. To the GOP this is simply an extension of their main concern; that corporations and their profits bring more to their personal financial wealth than your rights as an American citizen.
Reversing those protections has long been a dream for cable and telephone companies, which want to capitalize on the value of such personal information. And honestly, I understand that network executives want to produce the highest return for shareholders. The problem is they are selling something that doesn’t belong to them just because they own the means to carry it.
Here’s one perverse result of this action. When you make a voice call on your smartphone, the information is protected: Your phone company can’t sell the fact that you are calling car dealerships to others who want to sell you a car. But if the same device and the same network are used to contact car dealers through the internet, that information — the same information, in fact — can be captured and sold by the network. To add insult to injury, you pay the network a monthly fee for the privilege of having your information sold to the highest bidder.
This bill isn’t the only gift to the industry. The Trump F.C.C. recently voted to stay requirements that internet service providers must take “reasonable measures” to protect confidential information they hold on their customers, such as Social Security numbers and credit card information. This is not a hypothetical risk — in 2015 AT&T was fined $25 million for shoddy practices that allowed employees to steal and sell the private information of 280,000 customers.
The hypocrisy at play here flows like volcanic lava : The man who has raged endlessly at the alleged surveillance of the communications of his aides (and potentially himself) will soon sign a bill that allows unrestrained sale of the personal information of any American using the internet.
Apparently, the Trump administration and its allies in Congress value privacy for themselves over the privacy of the Americans who voted them into office. What is good business for powerful cable and phone companies is just tough shit for the rest of us as long as the GOP can maintain favored status come corporate donation time.