Internet service providers’ ad targeting capabilities have been given a significant boost in the US after congress repealed an Obama-era internet privacy law, allowing them to share customer data with marketers and other third parties without the need for customer consent.
The proposed legislation wipes away online privacy protections which were passed in October and scheduled to take effect by the end of the year.
The law would have required internet service providers (ISPs) to get users' permission before sharing their personal information and give customers the ability to opt out of the sharing of less sensitive information, such as an email address.
President Trump is expected to sign the order this week, meaning companies who backed the repeal, such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast, will now be free to share customer browsing habits, app usage history, financial information, location data, social security numbers and content of communications.
Providers will also be free to sell user data directly to marketers, financial firms and other companies that mine personal data, all of whom would be free to use the data without consumers’ consent.
While search engines and social media platforms already collect usage data on consumers, ISPs know more about users’ online activities because they can view all of the sites a user visits.
Advocates of internet rights have been highly critical of the move, including Evan Greer, campaign director from rights group Fight for the Future.
She told the BBC: “Today Congress proved once again that they care more about the wishes of the corporations that fund their campaigns than they do about the safety and security of their constituents.”
Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, told the Washington Post that the law change would mean Americans would “never be safe online from having their most personal details stealthily scrutinized and sold to the highest bidder”.
The law change will strengthen ISPs advertising capabilities at a time when Google’s own advertising clout has come under heavy scrutiny around brand safety which it has yet to sufficiently tackle.