Consumer group says Congress has voted to turn Internet users from people into products.
The U.S. is close to scrapping the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s broadband privacy rules, to the dismay of consumer groups.
In a statement late on Tuesday, the White House said it strongly supports Congress’s vote in favour of a bill repealing the rules, thereby allowing ISPs to share or sell customer information without first obtaining their consent.
If the bill is presented to president Trump, "his advisors would recommend that he sign the bill into law," the White House said.
The FCC adopted the privacy rules in October. Under the rules, customers must explicitly opt in to allow their ISP to share information considered sensitive, such as precise location, financial and health information, social security number, Web browsing and app usage history, the content of communications, and information about their children.
The vote to overturn these rules elicited a strong reaction from consumer advocates.
Dallas Harris, policy fellow at Public Knowledge, said overturning the rules "defies basic concern" for consumer choice.
"Without the FCC’s broadband privacy rules, Americans go from being Internet users to marketing data – from people to the product."
She warned that the bill not only scraps the Broadband Privacy Order, it also prevents the regulator from creating similar privacy protections in future.
"There will be no effective federal cop on the beat to proactively protect consumer information collected by ISPs."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said that scrapping privacy rules will give the likes of AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon "free rein to hijack your searches, sell your data, and hammer you with unwanted advertisements.
"They will watch your every action online and create highly personalised and sensitive profiles for the highest bidder. All without your consent."
EFF said ISPs will become giant repositories of personal data, and warned that "it won’t be long before the government begins demanding access to the treasure trove of private information Internet providers will collect and store."
Former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler also attacked the decision.
He wrote in a New York Times op-ed that the government has voted to overturn "a simple but vitally important concept – namely that the information that goes over a network belongs to you as the consumer, not to the network hired to carry it."
Wheeler said he understood the desire for telcos to capitalise on the value of customers’ personal data, but he argued that they are selling something that doesn’t belong to them.
"To add insult to injury, you pay the network a monthly fee for the privilege of having your information sold to the highest bidder," he said.