New York City

Schumer: Senate vote could put your private internet info on the market

March 27, 2017 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer vowed to fight a Republican bill rolling back internet privacy protections. AP file photo by J. Scott Applewhite

It’s in the fine print: Opt-out vs. opt-in makes a big difference

U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer issued a warning on Sunday that Senate Republicans have voted to roll back broadband privacy regulations that prevent internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T from collecting and selling computer users’ sensitive information to the highest bidder.

The 50 – 48 vote in the Senate eliminates the rule that would require ISPs to receive explicit opt-in consent from consumers prior to sharing personal data judged as sensitive.

These opt-in privacy protections were put in place by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) during the Obama administration but have not yet taken effect.

The bill now goes to the House, and President Donald Trump said he would sign it, according to published sources.

“The little privacy we have left, the kind that enshrines our personal emails, our health information, our finances and even the websites our kids visit must not be made available to everyone and anyone,” Schumer said in a statement.

Under the current rules, information such as one’s Social Security Number, email contents, browsing history, precise geo-location, app usage, and health and financial information are defined as sensitive personal data. As a result, ISPs would be barred from using this data, unless the consumer explicitly consented.

The rollback would allow broadband providers free rein to share this sensitive information with data farms and advertisers without affirmative consent.

Studies show that it is more difficult for ISPs to get affirmative consent than it is to automatically opt-in consumers, which requires them to figure out what that means and how to opt out. Most ISP and software users fail to read the fine print in privacy consent forms that may be hundreds of pages long and filled with legal gobbledy gook.

While Google can sell search information to advertisers, the user’s name is not attached to the information. The ISP, however, has access to the consumer’s name, address and other information that can be linked to the data.

Chillingly, the legislation would prevent the FCC from reinstating similar privacy protections in the future.