If we’ve learned anything from reports of Russians hacking political campaigns and Silicon Valley corporations, it’s that online privacy can’t be taken for granted. But President Donald Trump apparently wants to strip Americans of our last shred of secrecy.
Trump signed legislation on Monday that would make it easier for internet service providers to sell unwitting customers’ personal data to the highest bidder. Just about anything typed into a web browser will be fair game, from your financial information to your medical conditions, and can be used to create highly targeted online ads.
That Trump would consider this legislation at all is the height of hypocrisy. This is a president who spends his days lamenting leaks from unauthorized spies in the White House and refuses to release his tax returns. Though he knows embarrassingly little about computers, the privacy of his own data is an obsession.
“If you have something really important, write it out and have it delivered by courier, the old-fashioned way,” Trump said on New Year’s Eve. “Because I’ll tell you what: No computer is safe.”
Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Technically it’s already legal for internet service providers, such as Comcast, to spy on customers and turn over the data to advertisers. It’s the same creepy thing that Facebook and Google do now, which is why an online shopping excursion for new footwear can mean boot ads haunting your browser for weeks.
But many ISPs had delayed following Facebook and Google’s lead because the Obama administration’s Federal Communications Commission took a hard line on net neutrality and other consumer protections, and had passed a bill requiring internet service providers to get consent from their customers before selling personal information to advertisers. That bill was to have taken effect in December; the bill Trump signed Monday will undo that.
It’s a one-two punch for consumers since Trump’s FCC voted last month to stay rules that would have required internet service providers to protect credit card information and Social Security numbers from hackers. Net neutrality is the next target. Privacy may be passé, but Trump isn’t the only one who doesn’t want to give it up entirely, for free.