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Senate Votes To Undo Privacy Rules that Protect User Data

The Republican-led Senate moved Thursday to undo Obama-era regulations that would have forced internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon to ask customers’ permission before they could use or sell much of their personal information.

Senators voted along party lines, 50-48, to eliminate the rules. The Federal Communications Commission, then controlled by Democrats, put the regulations in place in October. They’re not in effect yet.

The regulations would have required a company like Verizon to get approval before telling an advertiser what websites customers visited, what apps they used, their health and financial information, or their physical location. Under the regulations, many more people likely would have chosen not to allow their data to be shared than if they had to take an extra step of asking a company to stop sharing or selling their information.

Industry groups and Republicans protested the regulations. They said broadband providers would have to operate under tougher privacy requirements than digital-advertising behemoths like Google and Facebook.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said undoing the rules won’t change existing consumer privacy protections. But Democrats and consumer advocates say it will be easier for phone and cable companies to use and sell customer data. Flake is chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on privacy and technology.

The House and President Donald Trump must still approve rolling back the privacy rules.

Cable companies, cellphone carriers and the advertising industry attacked the rules as an overreach. If the permissions requirements went into effect, it may have been more difficult for telecom companies to build advertising businesses that could serve as stiffer competition to Google and Facebook, as they want to do. Internet companies like Google doesn’t have to ask users’ permission before tracking what sites they visit.

Republicans and industry groups have blasted that discrepancy.

“The commission’s rules suffocate industry and harm consumers by creating two completely…

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