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April 5 2017

Stop the Misinformation on the Roll-Back of Privacy Rules

by Patrice L. Onwuka

President Trump ignored calls by Democrats to veto the privacy repeal bill passed by Congress and signed the law. The bill blocks Obama-era rules on the information internet companies collect on us from going into effect in December.

Democrats and privacy advocates have made overblown and frankly wrong claims about the effort to scale-back midnight regulations and the power grab passed in the waning Obama days. Republicans in Congress and the new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai have argued that the rules would have placed on internet providers such as Verizon and AT&T added regulations that internet companies such as Facebook and Google don’t currently face. They also argue that this is an area for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to regulate not the FCC.

However, from the start of this fight and up to today, supporters of the Obama-rules are claiming that these internet companies can buy your personal information. That is inaccurate, but that hasn’t stopped the misinformation from spreading like wild fire.

A super PAC supporting Democrats is launching attack ads against Republican senators for their support of the bill accusing them of “selling your privacy to the highest bidder.”

The Hill reports comments from some advocacy groups:

“It’s shocking that of all the challenges facing this country the Trump administration would prioritize taking away people’s privacy,” said Craig Aron, CEO of the advocacy group Free Press. 

And that this misinformation has even spread to late night:

“I guarantee you there is not one person, not one voter of any political stripe anywhere in America who asked for this,” Stephen Colbert said on “The Late Show” last week. “No one in America stood up in a town hall and said, ‘Sir, I demand you let somebody else make money off my shameful desires. Maybe blackmail me someday.’”

It makes for good jokes and fundraising appeals, but, as a tech expert who actually supports the privacy rules explains, the way this is being characterized is totally untrue.

Internet providers can’t bundle up all of the private information and browsing history of your worst enemy and sell it to you nor can you buy the information of congressmen and congresswomen then sell that as a GoFundMe campaign is aiming to do with Republican Representative Louis Gohmert.

A TechDirt editor explains why it’s counterproductive to true privacy efforts and just wrong to continue this lie:

But here's the real problem: you can't buy Congress' internet data. You can't buy my internet data. You can't buy your internet data. That's not how this works. It's a common misconception. We even saw this in Congress four years ago, where Rep. Louis Gohmert went on a smug but totally ignorant rant, asking why Google won't sell the government all the data it has on people. As we explained at the time, that's not how it works*. Advertisers aren't buying your browsing data, and ISPs and other internet companies aren't selling your data in a neat little package. It doesn't help anyone to blatantly misrepresent what's going on.

When ISPs or online services have your data and "sell" it, it doesn't mean that you can go to, say, AT&T and offer to buy "all of Louis Gohmert's browsing history." Instead, what happens is that these companies collect that data for themselves and then sell targeting

... But if we continue to push this myth that companies are selling direct dossiers on each individual surfer, people will start believing other wrong and misleading stuff, and that makes it more difficult to tackle the actual problems here.

Some refreshing truth from someone who supports the privacy rules, but acknowledges that the way the repeal is being painted is in itself “fake news.” Even a Washington Post interview confirms this explanation in an interview with the former enforcement bureau chief at the FCC explained:

Many Internet service providers (ISPs) have privacy policies that may cover this type of information. If an ISP shares or sells an individual's personal information in violation of its own privacy policy, a state attorney general could take the company to court…

Based on how companies use and share data today, it's still relatively unlikely that an ISP would simply hand over data for cash, particularly about an individual, said Chris Calabrese, policy vice president at the Center for Democracy and Technology.

While we all want our privacy protected, the way the FCC under previous leadership went about this seems to be the point of contention.

 

 

 

 

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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