Just days after Congress moved to kill privacy rules protecting broadband users, two of the largest internet service providers said Friday that they would not sell customer browsing histories to advertisers.
In separate announcements, Verizon and Comcast vowed to protect client privacy and avoid enhancing their own profits by monitoring the internet habits of clients and selling the data to advertisers.
“Let’s set the record straight. Verizon does not sell the personal web browsing history of our customers. We don’t do it, and that’s the bottom line,” Verizon’s chief privacy officer, Karen Zacharia, said in a company blog posting.
A Comcast statement echoed the Verizon position.
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“We do not sell our broadband customers’ individual web browsing history. We did not do it before the FCC’s rules were adopted, and we have no plans to do so,” Gerard Lewis, chief general counsel and privacy officer, wrote in a statement on Comcast’s corporate website.
The bill, which has passed both the Senate and House and awaits President Donald Trump’s signature, would roll back rules passed by the Federal Communications Commission last October in what Republicans describe as a “midnight regulation.” Those rules would prevent broadband providers from collecting personal data without consent, then profit from the sale of such data to marketers.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer left no doubt that Trump would sign the roll back, saying the Obama administration sought to favor social media companies and search engines at the expense of broadband providers.
“The president pledged to reverse this type of federal overreach in which bureaucrats in Washington take the interests of one group of companies over the interests of others, picking winners and losers,” Spicer said Thursday.
Critics of the move called it a defeat for privacy, and a backlash is building. At least two internet campaigns have raised more than $270,000 to buy the browsing histories of lawmakers and even their family members for public perusal.
One gofundme.com campaign that had a $10,000 goal has surpassed $193,000 in five days. It was launched by a Chattanooga, Tennessee, activist who wants to buy the internet browsing histories of all legislators and their families and publish them.
“Let’s turn the tables. Let’s buy THEIR history and make it available,” activist Adam McElhaney wrote on his fundraising page.
Another campaign, started by Misha Collins of Los Angeles, has raised more than $81,000 toward a goal of publicizing the internet history only of lawmakers who voted in favor of killing the FCC privacy rules.
A third broadband provider, AT&T, issued a lengthier and more combative statement than those of New York-based Verizon and Philadelphia-based Comcast.
The Dallas-based company’s senior executive vice president for legislative affairs, Robert W. Quinn Jr., said the FCC regulations in question discriminated against broadband providers.
“In truth, companies that collect and use the most customer information on the internet are not the (internet service providers) but other internet companies, including operating system providers, web browsers, search engines, and social media platforms. And the FCC rules had nothing – literally nothing – to do with these companies or their practices,” Quinn wrote.
He said AT&T has privacy protections in place that did not change with the FCC regulations and will not change with the new bill.