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Internet Privacy Is the Only Thing Uniting Our Fractured Nation

Some Trump supporters have vowed to turn against the president if he allows broadband providers to collect and sell their data

Cucks and Trump supporters have finally found common ground: They both oppose legislation that will loosen rules governing internet privacy.

House Republicans voted on Tuesday to reverse relatively new internet privacy rules that would’ve barred broadband providers (such as AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon) from selling data on customers’ web browsing activity, unless a customer granted permission. (The rules would not have gone into effect until later this year.)

The Senate already voted, along party lines, to approve the new bill; assuming President Trump signs it into law, which he is likely to do, internet service providers will be able to sell information about the websites their customers visit (and, presumably, the comments they write) without consent.

While most ISPs do not currently sell that data, according to Vox, the new bill means they could soon do so. And that’s a disturbing prospect for many Americans, not least those who populate the seedier corners of Reddit — like, say, /r/DoppelBangHer, a Reddit community for finding pornstars who look like your everyday crushes.

So yesterday, members of /r/The_Donald, a Reddit community comprising some of President Trump’s most zealous supporters, flooded the message board with demands that Trump veto the legislation. There were more than a dozen discussion threads created about the topic, with the vast majority of comments urging Trump to oppose the measure [all sic]:

It would be a shame if President Trump just happened to veto the bill allowing your internet history to be sold (It wouldn’t). from The_Donald

This kind of opposition is typical of Redditors, who tend to possess a libertarian streak, and generally support an internet that’s simultaneously open and private.

But it’s uncharacteristic for members of r/the_donald in two ways:

  1. It means backing a policy that was enacted, at least indirectly, by former President Barack Obama, whose Federal Communications Committee appointee Tom Wheeler instituted the rules.
  2. It means breaking ranks with Trump, who until this point has been more or less infallible in the eyes of the group.

Members of /r/the_donald have acted as a de facto online propaganda arm for the president since his campaign first gained prominence, staging coordinated efforts to amplify his message and spin his many controversial remarks. For instance, when Trump failed to whip up enough votes last week for the Republicans’ proposed Obamacare replacement bill, r/the_Donald placed the blame squarely on Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.

Contrary to what some members of /r/The_Donald are saying, the bill won’t transfer oversight from the FCC to the Federal Trade Commission, nor will it switch the rules from “opt-in” (ISPs needing to ask permission to track activity) to “opt-out” (ISPs tracking users unless or until they actively revoke permission), according to Jeremy Gillula, senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes internet privacy. “The repeal shifts oversight from the FCC to probably nobody, and prevents any rules about being opt-in or opt-out from going into effect,” he explains. Simply put, it will ensure ISPs have free rein to sell user data to whoever’s willing to buy it.

It seems a strange hill to die on for members of /r/The_Donald, but you have to remember these aren’t your average Trump supporters; they’re especially avid internet users, as well. And the bill violates one of the internet’s most fundamental, if unofficial, laws: If we pay for the service, our data shouldn’t be monetized.

Selling user data is already the primary revenue stream for many of the internet’s largest companies, including Facebook, Google and Twitter — nominally “free” services that make money by monitoring their users’ interests and using that information to serve them targeted advertising. This is why those shoes you checked out on Amazon last week magically appeared as a promoted post in your Facebook feed.

This exchange — personal data for access to a free internet service — has come to define the social web era. But in that sense, the main difference between, say, Facebook and Comcast is that Facebook doesn’t charge for access (at least in the monetary sense). It has “users,” whereas Comcast has customers—people who pay for the service that Comcast provides, presumably under the understanding that that’s the only way in which Comcast is monetizing their internet usage.

Exactly how much users know about the ways in which Facebook et al are monetizing their data is debatable. But the tacit agreement has always been that using a service for free means subjecting yourself to interruptive advertising, while paying for a subscription entitles you to an ad-free experience. The “freemium” model is built on this concept. Freedom from ads motivates people to pony up for a Spotify Premium subscription and even the paid version of Bejeweled.

Dismantling these regulations will allow ISPs to double-dip — price-gouging us for access and then turning around and selling our internet activity to brands (or whatever other entity wants the information).

Most likely members of r/The_Donald members will be disappointed—Trump has already indicated he intends to sign the bill. Or maybe they’ll find a way to spin this for the president, too. After all, these are the same guys who believe in mass voter fraud, despite zero evidence and an election that went their way, and who insist that Trump’s infamous pussy-grabbing comments were just harmless locker room talk; they readily admit that they don’t take Trump seriously. It will be interesting to see whether the loss of a privacy they’d taken for granted will be serious enough to change their minds.