House votes to let internet providers sell your browsing history

Now it's just up to President Trump.

The House voted Tuesday to nix rules that would require internet providers to get permission before sharing some information about your internet use. Last week, senators voted to get rid of the rules. Now President Donald Trump just needs to sign off on it – which looks likely.

The vote was close – 215 yeas and 205 nays – and pretty much along party lines. Only Republicans voted in favor of rolling back the rules, including Minnesota's Jason Lewis, Erik Paulsen, and Tom Emmer. Fifteen Republicans voted against it, the rest were all Democrats – among them, Minnesota's Tim Walz, Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison, Colin Peterson, and Rick Nolan.

So if Trump signed this, what happens?

Basically, some rules Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed in October won't go into effect. Those rules would prohibit internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from sharing your information without consent. According to the the Washington Post, they're supposed to go into effect in December.

What information are were talking about?

The Consumerist explains the FCC's rules here. The rules pretty much say there are two categories of data internet service providers (ISPs) collect.

The first category is sensitive data that ISPs wouldn't be able to share without your permission. That includes things like location, kids' information, health and finance-related data, social security numbers, conversations, and browsing history. If you wanted to share that stuff, you could – you'd just have to opt in.

The second category is less sensitive data that ISPs could use, as long as they allowed users the option to opt out. That information includes your name, address, and IP address, among other things.

What happens if the FCC rules are repealed?

If the president signs the repeal, the FCC rules won't go into effect, and internet service providers will be able to do what they wish with your information.

Mostly, ISPs can use and sell the information for more targeted advertising.

There are ways to opt out of sharing that information, though. You can learn how to do that here.

The arguments for and against

The main argument from Republicans in Congress and at the FCC is that the rules are unfair, in that it puts major cable and telecoms companies on an unequal footing with other major data-collecting companies like Google or Facebook, NPR notes.

These companies are overseen not by the FCC, but by the Federal Trade Commission, whose privacy restrictions are less stringent than the FCC’s.

ISP and cable companies like Comcast and AT&T are looking to grab a slice of the lucrative online content and advertising market that has seen the influence and earnings of firms like Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google skyrocket in the past decade.

This comes as more and more “cord-cutters” are turning away from cable subscriptions in favor of online streaming services, as reported by Business Insider.

Democrats fear these recent rulings are a step towards the GOP’s and broadband providers’ supposed ultimate aim of scrapping “net neutrality” regulations, which prohibits broadband providers from favoring their own content over those of competitors, the LA Times reports.

It also prevents them from charging fees for faster delivery that could squeeze out smaller companies.

Opponents say consumers should be given the choice of whether their personal browsing histories can be put up for sale.

Next Up