US politicians have voted to abolish privacy rules that are designed to prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from selling users’ web browsing histories and app usage histories to advertisers.
The measure passed by 215 votes to 205, which follows the same vote in the Senate last week. Just prior to the vote, a White House spokesman said the president supported the bill, meaning that the decision will soon become law.
Without these protections, ISPs such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T will be free to track their customers’ browsing behaviour and sell that data to advertisers without consent.
“Give me one good reason why Comcast should know what my mother’s medical problems are,” said congressman Mike Capuano during the hearing before the vote, explaining how he had researched her condition after a trip to the doctor. “Just last week I bought underwear on the internet. Why should you know what size I take? Or the colour?”
Others argued that repealing the privacy rules would be anti-competitive and give more power to a handful of companies.
Those in favour of repealing the privacy rules argued that it levels the playing field for ISPs who want to compete with companies such as Google and Facebook who currently dominate the advertising industry.
The ISPs argue that web browsing history and app usage should not count as “sensitive” information, and claim that abandoning the rules will allow them to show users more relevant advertising and offers.
In the run-up to the hearing, privacy campaigners argued that ISPs receive different treatment than that of Google and Facebook, as in many cases consumers only have one choice of broadband provider. You can choose not to use Facebook or Google’s search engine, and there are lots of tools you can use to block their tracking on other parts of the web.