Sunday April 02, 2017

Search history for sale

On March 28, 2017, the U.S House of Representatives passed legislation allowing ISPs to collect and sell users' web browsing history without their permission.

On March 28, 2017, the U.S House of Representatives passed legislation allowing ISPs to collect and sell users' web browsing history without their permission.

Listen 11:29

If you do a news search for 'privacy' right now, you'll likely notice one story making the headlines.

Privacy for sale!

And that's because the U.S. House of Representatives has joined the Senate in voting to repeal recently adopted Obama-era privacy rules.

Once signed by the president, the approved legislation allows US internet service providers to collect and sell data about people's web browsing habits.

351 Ann Cavoukian

Dr. Ann Cavoukian

Without their express permission.  

This gives Ann Cavoukian great concerns.

Ann was the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario for three terms from 1997 to 2014.

She's now the executive director of the Privacy and Big Data Institute at Ryerson University.

Ann says the repeal of the legislation means large American ISPs like Comcast will be able to gather information about their users' browsing, and use it for capital gain.

She says before the repeal, the law ensured that ISPs would have to seek your permission to use any web browsing data.

Now, they don't.

This means the data can be sold, shared, and otherwise distributed, she says.

Although companies like Google and Facebook can -- and do -- collect information, but they are free services, and users can either choose not to use them, or opt out of their data gathering.

But some people have no choice in their ISP, and, moreover, they pay for internet access, she says.

"It's a real setback for privacy"

Ann says that the EU has very strong privacy laws. There, users are guaranteed privacy as a default - only if individuals actively opt-in are ISPs allowed to gather and use that data.

Canadian officials have also said they intend to follow the European example, she says.

But in the US, now that the law has been been repealed, it means that a similar law that would boost privacy measures cannot be re-introduced. "It's a giant step backwards."