Privacy activist wants to unveil lawmakers' browser histories

GoFundMe campaign focused on fighting back at Internet privacy changes

phone privacy
Kārlis Dambrāns (CC BY 2.0)

After Congress on Tuesday approved a resolution that would toss out significant online privacy protections, one Internet user decided to do something about it.

Adam McElhaney, who calls himself a privacy activist and net neutrality advocate, created a website and a GoFundMe page to raise money to buy the internet histories of the legislators who backed the resolution so he can make them available and easily searchable.

According to McElhaney's GoFundMe page, he also plans to do the same to the legislators' families and any executives involved.

"I plan on purchasing the Internet histories of all legislators, congressmen, executives, and their families and make them easily searchable at," he wrote. "Everything from their medical, pornographic, to their financial and infidelity. Anything they have looked at, searched for, or visited on the Internet will now be available for everyone to comb through… Let's turn the tables."

McElhaney set a $10,000 goal and as of 3 p.m. ET on Thursday had raised more than $167,600 from nearly 11,000 donors in four days.

The campaign is getting attention because of the lawmakers' votes to enable ISPs, such as Verizon and Comcast, to sell users' web browsing history.

Marketers could buy information on users' online shopping habits, what they shop for, what medical sites they visit and what sites they visit that they'd rather no one know about. It could all be bought and sold without the users' consent.

In a vote that ran along party lines, congressional Republicans voted to send the legislation to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it, effectively erasing privacy measures that former President Barack Obama signed last year.

Those privacy protections, which were set to go into effect at the end of this year, were intended to limit what ISPs could do with customer information, such as browsing habits, app usage, location data and Social Security numbers.

The protections also forced ISPs to put up stronger boundaries to protect user data from hackers.

Companies like Google and Facebook are able to sell users' data. For instance, Google can sell information about what its users search for. The difference is that Google and Facebook operate on the internet, while the ISPs are the means for users to connect to internet. While a user could make a choice not to use Facebook, it would be difficult for many U.S. users to pick a different ISP because many areas have few options.

"I think this is not a good situation," said Judith Hurwitz, an analyst with Hurwitz & Associates. "One of the biggest problems is that there is no opt-out provision in the new law. This gives the vendors a huge amount of power over private information, including medical data. This will hurt Internet users."

She doesn't expect the activist's efforts to release the private information of Republicans in Congress to have much affect, but said the "problems will be dramatic" if the resolution becomes law.

However, Rob Enderle, an analyst with the Enderle Group, said the changes could have a positive effect.

"In a competitive market, it should help keep prices down," Enderle said. "Companies like Google had been selling this kind of information for some time, helping fund their free services."

He, too, doesn't expect McElhaney's effort to have much effect.

"It may simply result in aggressive actions against people personally attacking lawmakers," Enderle said.

This story, "Privacy activist wants to unveil lawmakers' browser histories" was originally published by Computerworld.


Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

The 10 most powerful companies in enterprise networking 2022