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Your internet history and browsing habits are for sale, and the House voted Tuesday to keep it that way, rolling back rules that would have barred internet service providers from selling your data without consent.
The measure would bar the Federal Communications Commission from enforcing rules it passed last year, during President Barack Obama's administration, that would have required broadband providers to get your explicit consent before they could sell your personal data.
Before Tuesday's the vote, representatives who wanted to keep the rules stripped the debate down to something as mundane as buying underwear online, privately.
"I know there has got to be somebody in this body who believes [internet service providers] should not have anybody's underwear size," said Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota.
With strong opposition from Democrats, the measure narrowly passed in the House by a 215-205 vote. No Democrats voted for the bill, and 15 Republicans opposed it. A similar version squeaked through the Senate last Thursday on a party-line vote of 50-48.
The president's signature is all that is needed now to roll back the rules, leaving consumer data fair game for internet service providers and, crucially, barring the FCC from issuing similar protections in the future. The White House said in a statement on Tuesday that it "strongly supports" the repeal.
After the vote, the Internet & Television Association issued a statement applauding the congressional action to repeal "the FCC’s misguided rules."
"With a proven record of safeguarding consumer privacy, internet providers will continue to work on innovative new products that follow ‘privacy-by-design’ principles and honor the FTC’s successful consumer protection framework,” the group said in a statement. "We look forward to working with policymakers to restore consistency and balance to online privacy protections.”
CTIA, formerly the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, an advocacy group for the industry, applauded the measure's sponsors last week for "seeking a common-sense and harmonized approach to protecting Americans' privacy."
"Wireless carriers are committed to safeguarding consumer privacy, and we support regulatory clarity and uniformity across our digital economy," CTIA said in a statement.
But internet privacy advocates are framing this as a battle between privacy and profits.
Kate Tummarello, a policy analyst at the San Francisco based Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the "commonsense rules" Congress voted to repeal were designed "to protect your data" and keep internet service providers from doing a "host of creepy things" without your consent.
"Of course, the ISPs that stand to make money off of violating your privacy have been lobbying Congress to repeal those rules," she said in a statement before the vote. "Unfortunately, their anti-consumer push has been working."
The measure has also spawned a call to action from Data Does Good, a company that wants to empower people to leverage their data to help in the fight for online privacy rights.
The premise: Give Data Does Good your Amazon shopping history, which they say they'll automatically anonymize and pool with others before selling it to retailers.
Data Does Good will then donate $15 on your behalf to a non-profit of your choice that is fighting for privacy rights, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation or the ACLU.
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