On an average day, a person may browse for batteries on Amazon, mindlessly scroll through Facebook, and google Furby for nostalgia’s sake. Data trickles from every point as you leave your digital imprint. As companies leverage this data, advertisements become more personalized to your web browsing history and, suddenly, your private habits feel less anonymous and more like a flashing neon sign that reads, “stalk me and take my money.”
Consumer protections have been introduced in the past — the Federal Communications Commission required that Internet Service Providers receive consumers’ permission to share private data with third parties. But these protections came crashing down on Monday, when President Trump signed a bill into law killing the FCC’s privacy rules.
The signing of this bill was swift and relatively quiet, by Trump standards. On Mar. 28, Trump signed an executive order to eliminate the Clean Power Plan and the House of Representatives voted to repeal a law that prohibited Internet Service Providers from sharing users’ web browsing history without permission.
How did citizens react to this reversal? Social media enables us to examine the conversation around Trump weakening internet privacy and the multiple stakeholders involved.
A Sneak Attack
If it was Trump’s goal to introduce a dizzying array of attacks on Obama-era legislation, he’s been quite effective at achieving his desired effect.
Looking at conversation about these major policies with mentions of Trump, Obamacare has remained the biggest topic of discussion so far. The Republicans’ failure to win support for the American Health Care Act, their alternative to Obamacare, contributed to the biggest spike in discussion.
Digging deeper into the emotional sentiment, half of posts excluding neutral were classified as anger since January 1. As frustration ensued, tempers ran high. At the other end of the spectrum, others were bewildered as to why people would mind their data being sold.
@ABC I do not get it, why would Trump undo internet privacy. Someone pls explain. Maybe the right knows.
— Louise Mc (@Louise49Mc) April 3, 2017
Do you really care that ISP's can sell your browsing data or is it just because it's Trump rolling back Obama (over)regs you're so upset?
— Noah Winston Hanover (@NWHanover) April 3, 2017
1984 or 2017?
While telecommunications companies may be rejoicing at the prospect of digging into the gold minefield of user data, consumer protection advocates and consumers have a lot to lose.
The main topic was about the consumers who will be adversely affected by Trump’s actions. People were particularly rattled by Trump’s law enabling already powerful internet providers to monetize consumer data even more.
Trump signs bill that allows internet providers to sell your privacy to the highest bidder, because they don't make enough off you already.
— Josh Jordan (@NumbersMuncher) April 3, 2017
A significant portion of the conversation was centered around telecommunications companies generally, but also on specific brands like Comcast and Verizon.
So @comcast – true or false: you lobbied to have trump kill the consumer internet privacy legislation ?
— Darren Platt (@dplattsf) April 3, 2017
Policymakers like Barack Obama and Trump’s FCC Chief, Ajit Pai, were also discussed. Obama was mentioned in the context of the privacy rules he introduced being repealed by Trump. Pai is outspoken about his views against net neutrality, and people took to social media to condemn his villainous intentions.
Trump’s tax returns were discussed in the context of the hypocrisy of Trump securing his information illegally, while making it legal for corporations to leverage consumer data.
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Once again, new Trump FCC head Ajit Pai is a former Verizon lawyer who wants to let ISPs slow access to websites that aren't their own.
— Ben Collins (@oneunderscore__) January 23, 2017
What Trump Super Villain Ajit Pai wants to do by killing Net Neutrality Is allow Comcast to charge you for watching YouTube on their ISP.
— Yves Darbouze (@YvesDarbouze) January 24, 2017
Behavioral targeting has been taken to the next level with the repeal of consumer protections. Analyzing social conversation helps us understand where consumer protections falls in comparison to other legislation, and how people are processing their future as Internet users.