Politicians' web browsing history targeted after privacy vote

Politicians' web browsing history targeted after privacy vote

Two GoFundMe campaigns have raised more than US$290,000 in an effort to buy the web browsing histories of U.S. politicians after Congress voted to all

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Two GoFundMe campaigns have raised more than US$290,000 in an effort to buy the web browsing histories of U.S. politicians after Congress voted to allow broadband providers to sell customers’ personal information without their permission.

It’s unclear if those efforts will succeed, however. Even though Congress scrapped the FCC’s ISP privacy rules last week, the Telecommunications Act still prohibits telecom providers from selling personally identifiable information in many cases. 

After last week’s vote, and President Donald Trump’s signature on the congressional resolution Monday, there’s some question about whether those prohibitions on selling personal data now apply to ISPs. Under FCC rules, ISPs technically aren’t telecom providers.

Asked if someone can now buy another person’s browsing history, and FCC spokesman responded this way: “I can’t comment on hypothetical, but the FCC retains the authority to protect consumer privacy on a case-by-case basis.”

In other words, the FCC would likely step in and stop attempted purchases of a politician’s browsing history.

Beyond that, broadband providers Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T have all promised not to sell individual customers’ web browsing history. “We do not sell our broadband customers’ individual web browsing history,” Comcast Senior Vice President Gerard Lewis wrote in a blog post. “We did not do it before the FCC’s rules were adopted, and we have no plans to do so.”

Still, providers of so-called marketing cloud services — think Salesforce and Oracle — track web users and develop extensive profiles based on shopping and web-browsing habits, said privacy advocate Jeffery Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy.

It’s likely possible to buy the web marketing profile of individual politicians from a marketing cloud provider, if not an ISP, including the kinds of websites they like to visit, by targeting them using their general location and other publicly available information, he said.

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