President Donald Trump has signed off on the repeal of legislation designed to limit internet service providers’ capacity to retain and sell users’ browsing history. This development comes after both the United States Senate and the House of Representatives voted to remove the limitations put in place while former President Barack Obama was still in office.
The legislation was designed to prevent both home and mobile internet providers from sharing their users’ browsing history, app usage, and other private information without their consent, according to a report from Ars Technica. Users would have had to opt in to allow their data to be sold.
Now, ISPs will not require customers’ consent in order to analyze their browsing history for the purposes of advertising. For bigger companies with their own advertising platforms, this means that users’ browsing habits can be fed directly into the mechanisms that determine what ads are delivered to an individual.
However, this repeal also means that ISPs are free to sell user data to third parties. Companies could potentially leverage existing customers to provide new revenue streams by treating their browsing history as a resource that can help advertisers reach receptive audiences.
It remains to be seen to what extent ISPs will take advantage of the access to user data granted by this repeal. In January 2017, a group of companies including AT&T, Comcast, T-Mobile, and Verizon published an open letter that stated their intention to allow customers opt out of their browsing history being used for advertising.
There are now fears that Trump might make changes to other legislation related to internet access, like net neutrality rules. Both net neutrality and the legislation that prevented ISPs from sharing user data without consent were facilitated by the FCC’s 2015 decision to reclassify ISPs as common carriers — something that White House press secretary Sean Spicer criticized in a briefing held last week.
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