President Trump signed a bill on Monday repealing internet privacy rules passed last year by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would have given internet users greater control over what service providers can do with their data, a White House spokeswoman confirmed.
The FCC regulations would have required broadband companies to get permission from their customers in order to use their “sensitive” data — including browsing history, geolocation and financial and medical information — to create targeted advertisements.
The bill caused an uproar when it passed the House and Senate last month, with critics accusing Republicans of selling their constituents' privacy.
"It's shocking that of all the challenges facing this country the Trump administration would prioritize taking away people's privacy," said Craig Aron, CEO of the advocacy group Free Press.
"There is literally no public support for this bill. Its only advocates are the nation's biggest phone, cable and Internet companies. There's no longer any question — if there ever was — whose needs this administration intends to serve. But people everywhere are on high alert to the serious threat to the free and open Internet. And they will fight back."
Meanwhile, the GOP and industry supporters of the bill argued that the regulations would have placed unfair restrictions on broadband providers, given that web companies like Facebook and Google also make data-driven ads and do not have to abide by similar restrictions.
“We welcome President Trump’s action today affirming Congress’ decision to hit the reset button by stopping rules that would have created a confusing and conflicting consumer privacy framework," Jonathan Spalter, CEO of USTelecom, said in a statement.
"Consumers deserve and expect one consistent set of online privacy protections and this action helps clear the way for a more uniform approach across the entire internet ecosystem. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s commitment to modeling the Federal Trade Commission’s well-tested approach is a meaningful step toward a consistent set of privacy protections that are pro-consumer and pro-innovation."
But that argument is proving to be a tough sell, as the bill has been widely denounced by consumer advocates, privacy groups and even late-night comedians.
“I guarantee you there is not one person, not one voter of any political stripe anywhere in America who asked for this,” Stephen Colbert said on “The Late Show” last week. “No one in America stood up in a town hall and said, ‘Sir, I demand you let somebody else make money off my shameful desires. Maybe blackmail me someday.’”
Democrats are already hitting vulnerable Republicans over their support for the bill.
The outrage has been fierce enough to put the telecom industry, the driving force behind the bill, on the defensive. Three of the largest internet service providers — AT&T, Comcast and Verizon — put out blog posts on Friday decrying what they saw as a misinformation campaign against the bill.
They argued that the backlash was overinflated given that the FCC rules never went into effect and that popular websites not covered by the regulations also use customers’ data for advertisements.
“Hopefully, this week’s action by Congress gets us back on the path to a more rational and consumer-friendly framework,” Bob Quinn, AT&T’s top lobbyist, wrote. “I am also hopeful that facts actually work their way back into the debate.”
Updated 8:54 p.m.