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Editorial: A setback for privacy on the internet

Browsing the internet will remain less than personal as the Senate voted in favor of dismantling landmark privacy protections.

Senators, and the tech industry, may somehow see the 50-to-48 vote, largely along party lines, as a move to increase internet privacy, but it is not. The House is expected to follow the Senate’s lead, followed by President Trump signing it into law.

As reported by the New York Times, under the legislation, internet providers such as Verizon, Comcast and AT&T can continue the practice of tracking and sharing people’s browsing and app activity without permission, an unnerving development. To be fair, there is no way to divine the future and say what the industry will do with its trove of data. But the possibilities are troubling.

Democratic lawmakers warn that broadband providers – who have a ubiquitous presence in most Americans’ lives – would be able to delve deeper into the habits of consumers, collecting sensitive data about their customers and selling it to the highest bidder.

The privacy rules, created in October by the Federal Communications Commission, were a new approach to the often-contentious topic of regulating the internet.

It comes as no surprise that Republican lawmakers and the new chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, have called the privacy rules “onerous” and unfair to telecom carriers, while letting companies such as Facebook and Google slide.

The tech industry sees value in access to consumers’ habits. And since that is where the money is – ask Facebook and Google – internet providers want to be able to leverage the available data.

But as pointed out by a previous FCC chairman, Tom Wheeler, the internet has risen in importance in communications, education, work and commerce. Privacy protections for online users should be of paramount importance. The industry insists it will continue to protect privacy, if not do a better job, without the Obama-era rules.

Considering the potential to make money by peddling consumer data, that seems unlikely. Consumer advocates will need to remain on guard.

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