Opinion » Letter From The Editor

You Are For Sale

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If you're reading this column online, your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has a record of it. In fact, they have a record of every phone call you make, every time you order something on Amazon — every website you visit, in fact — even those naughty ones you don't want to talk about.

Until last Monday, that information was considered yours. It was private. The ISPs couldn't use it, share it, or, most importantly, sell it. Now, thanks to our "small government" Republican overlords in Congress and President Donald "Leaks!" Trump, your ISP can sell any of your information to anyone they please.

Yes, Google and Facebook have been selling your information for years. That's why when you browse shoes on Zappos.com, those same shoes start appearing on every website you visit. The difference is that you can avoid tracking by Facebook and Google, either by avoiding their services or by deleting the "cookies" they leave on your computers and cellphones.

This new rollback is a big step beyond that, because you can't avoid using an ISP provider to get online. The legislation overturns an FCC rule that required ISPs to get permission before selling their customers' online information to advertisers. No longer. Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, and other communications giants now own you — and they will sell you.

If you click on a site that, say, rates SUVs, you can expect to start getting emails, online ads, and other communications from auto dealers. If you browse Memphis Animal Services pups online, expect to start hearing from pet stores or Purina Dog Chow. Your online activities are no longer even remotely private.

The vote on this bill went on a strictly party-line basis. Democrats opposed it. The Republicans and the president thought it was a great idea to allow corporations to sell our privacy. Why would they do this? Come on, you know the drill by now. Let me quote the ever-useful-idiot Sean Spicer: "The bill was part of a larger effort to fight Washington red tape that stifles American innovation, job creation, and economic growth."

In other words, they were lobbied by the communications industry, which stands to make billions of fresh money using their new "market" — you. And the real beauty of this deal? You pay them hundreds of dollars a year for the privilege of invading your privacy.

We're all students at Trump University now. And how do you like your steaks? Well done, I hope. Because we are being served up on a platter.

The next move — which is already underway — will be to revoke the FCC's law of "net neutrality," which forces ISPs to allow all websites the same accessibility to their service. In other words, they can't favor one website over another when it comes to Internet speed or access. When net neutrality goes away, the ISPs will be able to charge websites for better access — basically allowing some sites to be reached more easily than others. And they could, and probably will, start charging you more for access to certain sites. What a country! Everything is for sale.

It's part of a trend, of course. Trump and the Republicans have been rolling back one "job killing" regulation after another with lightning speed — halting scientific studies, stifling medical research, shutting down consumer protections — and putting our water, our air, our national parks, our wildlife, our schools, our prisons, and our public safety in the hands of corporations.

My favorite GOP move from last week was the overturning of an oppressive law that banned baiting bears and shooting them from the air. For jobs, right?

We're all bears, now.

Bruce VanWyngarden

brucev@memphisflyer.com

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