- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2017

Lobbyists representing Google, Facebook and other online titans are voicing concerns with a Republican-backed bill that would strengthen privacy protections by making internet service providers, websites and apps obtain permission from customers prior to sharing their information with advertisers.

The Internet Association is monitoring a bill introduced in the House last week by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee Republican, prohibiting companies from sharing user data without their explicit approval and instead requiring customers to “opt-in” to such arrangements, the trade group said Tuesday.

“This bill has the potential to upend the consumer experience online and stifle innovation,” Internet Association spokesman Noah Theran said in a statement. “Policymakers must recognize that websites and apps continue to be under strict [Federal Trade Commission] privacy enforcement and are not in an enforcement gap, unlike other stakeholders in the ecosystem.”

The proposal in question — the Balancing the Rights of Web Surfers Equally and Responsibly, or BROWSER Act — would establish a uniform regulatory framework with respect to how internet companies share customers’ data, according to Ms. Blackburn, the Republican chairwoman of the House Communications and Technology Subcommittee.

“I thought the Internet Association would be more supportive of protecting consumers,” Ms. Blackburn responded in a statement to The Hill on Wednesday. “I think if you ask the American people if they’re OK with having less control over their online privacy so companies can sell their data — they’d say no.”

The Federal Communications Commission adopted provisions during the Obama administration requiring internet service providers to obtain customers’ expressed consent prior to sharing their data, but the rules didn’t apply to so-called “edge providers,” like websites and apps, and were nevertheless rejected this year by the Republican-controlled Congress and White House before taking effect.

“The government should not pick winners and losers when it comes to the privacy of Americans. This bill creates a level and fair privacy playing field by bringing all entities that collect and sell the personal data of individuals under the same rules,” Ms. Blackburn said when she introduced the BROWSER Act last week.

“We must offer American citizens real internet privacy protection, not mere lip service, which gives internet users false expectations about their level of online security,” Ms. Blackburn added.

The Internet Association was formed in 2012 and touts itself as “the only trade association that exclusively represents leading global internet companies on matters of public policy.” Members include Amazon, Dropbox, eBay, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Netflix, PayPal, Twitter, Yahoo and Yelp in addition to the aforementioned internet giants.

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