Trump signs Web privacy rollback Democrats say is anti-consumer

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(Bloomberg) -- U.S. President Donald Trump rescinded a rule requiring internet service providers to seek subscribers’ permission before using their web browsing history for marketing, handing broadband providers a victory and giving Democrats a campaign issue.

Trump signed a resolution, which passed Congress with only Republican votes, to repeal the privacy rule adopted last year by Democrats at the Federal Communications Commission. The method, rarely tried before the Trump administration, has been used to kill seven regulations through March 31, according to the group Public Citizen.

The FCC rule, which hadn’t yet taken effect, set restrictions on broadband providers such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. that fall under the agency’s jurisdiction. It didn’t cover web-based companies that track consumers, such as Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, whose privacy practices are regulated by a different agency.

Critics said the difference invited confusion and unfairly singled out the internet service providers. Supporters said broadband users need protection because consumers can switch web sites easily while it can be hard to change service providers.

Killing the FCC’s rule means “there will be no privacy rules governing broadband providers,” FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Terrell McSweeny, a commissioner at the Federal Trade Commission, wrote March 31 in the Los Angeles Times.

Under the FCC rules, broadband providers would have needed consent “before collecting information about what you search for on the internet, post on social media and what videos you watch online,” said Clyburn and McSweeny, both Democrats. Without the rule, “your broadband provider could collect this information and sell it to advertisers, or any third party, without your knowledge.”

“Last year’s election was fought over many issues; removing privacy protections from American consumers was not one of them,” the Democrats wrote. They said polls suggest 91 percent of Americans feel they already have given up too much of their personal data.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer earlier said the resolution “will allow service providers to be treated fairly, and consumer protection and privacy concerns to be viewed on an equal playing field.”

“The president pledged to reverse this type of federal overreach in which bureaucrats in Washington take the interest of one group of companies over the interest of others,” Spicer told reporters March 30. “He’ll continue to fight Washington red tape that stifles American innovation, job creation and economic growth.”

Forty-six Senate Democrats in a March 30 letter asked Trump to veto the resolution.

“This legislation will seriously undermine the privacy protections of the overwhelming majority of Americans,” the senators said. “Reversing these landmark privacy protections would be the antithesis of a pro-consumer administration.”

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