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Flake’s Bill Allowing Internet Companies to Sell Your Private Data Passes Congress

Arizona Senator Jeff Flake's bill, now expected to become law, will allow internet companies to sell your data.
Arizona Senator Jeff Flake's bill, now expected to become law, will allow internet companies to sell your data.
New Times Photo-Illustration. Source: Flake, Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons; Digital Pattern, Blackboard/Shutterstock.com
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Congress has voted to pass a bill originally introduced by Arizona Senator Jeff Flake that will repeal the Federal Communications Commission's rules for broadband privacy. 

Those rules, which were developed last year, said that internet service providers like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon had to get your permission before they could use or sell your browsing history and other sensitive data.

As the ACLU explains:

Without the FCC rules, ISPs won’t have to ask your permission before passing along deeply revealing data — your browsing history, IP address (which can indicate your location), app usage, and the times you log in and out of services — to third parties. These third parties could be advertising firms and big data brokers, both of which have a troubling history of discrimination. With the data they get from ISPs, these third parties could get insight into your religion, sexual orientation, or even how often you binge-watch Netflix. Even more disturbing, the government could also purchase this data for law enforcement or other uses.

The bill also prevents the FCC from adopting "substantially similar" rules in the future.

Last week, the Senate voted 50-48 in favor of Flake's bill. It now goes before President Trump, who's expected to sign it, Reuters reports.

In the House, Arizona representatives voted along party lines, with Republicans Andy Biggs, Trent Franks, Paul Gosar, David Schweikert, and Martha McSally in favor and Ruben Gallego, Raul Grijalva, Tom O'Halleran, and Kyrsten Sinema opposed.

The bill received major opposition from civil liberties groups like the ACLU and digital-rights organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which raised concerns about the potential for abuse.

But in the end, Big Cable's desire to harvest your data and sell it for a profit won — which is perhaps unsurprising, given that cable and telecom companies are major donors to both Democratic and Republican candidates. (During the 2014 election cycle, Gizmodo notes, the four largest telecom companies and their trade group spent twice as much as the top five pharmaceutical companies.) 

And Flake, who's responsible for originating this particular piece of legislation, is no exception. 

Campaign finance records indicate that he received $22,000 in direct contributions from major internet service providers during his 2012 campaign: $10,000 from Verizon, $6,000 from AT&T, $4,000 from Century Link, $2,000 from T-Mobile, and $1,000 from Cox Enterprises.

Anyway, here's a handy guide to installing a VPN.

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