Congress sends White House repeal of broadband privacy rules

WASHINGTON, March 28 (Reuters) - The U.S. House voted on Tuesday 215-205 to repeal regulations requiring internet service providers to do more to protect customers' privacy than websites like Alphabet Inc's Google or Facebook Inc.

The White House said earlier Tuesday that President Donald Trump strongly supports the repeal of the rules approved by the Federal Communications Commission in October under then-President Barack Obama.

Under the rules, internet providers would need to obtain consumer consent before using precise geolocation, financial information, health information, children's information and web browsing history for advertising and marketing.

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The 'Scammiest' Words on the Internet
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The 'Scammiest' Words on the Internet

Remember when hearing the word "congratulations" used to mean that something good was about to happen to you? Well, the Internet ruined that for all of us. Most of us have seen (and perhaps heard) a garish banner ad declaring "congratulations, you won!" And most of us have figured out by now that we didn't win anything.

Here's the thing: There's no such thing as a free lunch on the Internet. That Web site telling you that you can get a free iPad is probably just going to steal your information. And whatever the banner ad says, you're not actually the 1 millionth visitor to the site, and you're not actually entitled to riches and free merchandise.

Acai berry has been popping up in everything from energy drinks to colon cleansers lately. And if you're like us, it's also been popping up in your inbox and Web searches, too.

It's marketed as an all-natural miracle drug capable of promoting weight loss, virility and countless other health benefits, and these wild claims have started to catch the attention of government regulators. The Federal Trade Commission began cracking down on companies promoting the stuff back in 2010, shutting down a number of firms who made false health claims or otherwise tried to scam consumers into buying the supplement. And we've seen scammy-looking sites try to cash in on the controversy by offering the "truth" about acai berry.

Context is everything. The word "home" is innocuous on its own, but if it arrives in the phrase "work from home," then it should set off all sorts of internal alarm bells.

Don't get us wrong: There are definitely some legitimate work-from-home jobs out there. But much like miracle weight-loss supplements, such jobs are seen as a holy grail for people who don't want to get off the couch to accomplish their goals. As such, there are plenty of disreputable Web sites offering to pay you thousands per month but actually offering nothing but trouble.

To avoid these scam, here are some tips on how to spot a fake job.

Here's a tip: If a Web site takes pains to assure you its offer is "risk-free," it almost certainly carries plenty of risk. In fact, just last year the FTC cracked down on an international scheme that offered "risk-free" trials of everything from weight-loss pills to penny auctions and charged the customers with exorbitant monthly charges.

"Although the defendants offered a money-back guarantee, consumers were often unsuccessful in canceling the charges or obtaining refunds, and the process involved time-consuming phone calls and other steps that made the deals far from risk-free," the FTC explained in a statement.

There are certainly legitimate businesses out there that use this phrase, but in general it's a case of "methinks the scammer doth protest too much." If a guy ran up to you and the first words out of his mouth were "Don't worry, I'm not going to stab you!" you would probably turn and run away. Do the same for "risk-free" offers.

If you see the word "service" along with "bill" and "charged," there's a good chance you've stumbled upon some kind of mobile phone scam, say the experts at PC Tools. These words and phrases will usually pop up even when you're signing up for a legitimate phone service, but if you see the fine print on a suspicious-looking Web site start to talk about subscribing you to a service and billing you, you can be sure it won't be long before they're asking for your credit card number.

The acai berry scammers don't have a monopoly on weight-loss scams. Getting thin quick is just as popular as getting rich quick, and various sites offer miraculous diet solutions that will probably just sign you up for a free trial that isn't all that free (and which won't make you any thinner). You might see such sites also feature another buzzword identified by PC Tools: "mango," as in African mango, another supposed natural solution to weight loss.

The truth about weight-loss pills? The Food and Drug Administration is constantly reviewing such supplements made by legitimate pharmaceutical companies, and they tend to find that the side effects far outweigh any benefits. In other words, a miracle diet drug simply doesn't exist, and any Web site that claims it does is probably out to scam you. If you want to lose weight, hit the gym and start eating right.

Once again, context is everything. Lots of Web sites, including this one, talk about stocks and provide investment advice. But when an odd email or site starts talking about can't-miss investment opportunities, you may want to back away slowly.

We know: Everyone wishes they were the guy who caught early wind of Apple's revival or bought a bunch of shares of IBM decades ago. And it's that desire to get in early on a stock no one else knows about that allows scammers to entice gullible investors on the lookout for a hot tip.

Our hot tip? You could wind up relieved of a good chunk of change or wake up to find you were a patsy in a pump-and-dump scheme. The Securities and Exchange Commission recommends avoiding any stocks that aren't traded on a major exchange such as the Nasdaq or New York Stock Exchange, steering clear of unregulated "over the counter" exchanges. The SEC's best advice: "When you see an offer on the Internet, assume it is a scam until you can prove through your own research that it is legitimate."

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Last week, the Senate voted 50-48 to reverse the rules in a win for AT&T Inc, Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications Inc.

The White House in its statement said internet providers would need to obtain affirmative "opt-in" consent from consumers to use and share certain information, but noted that websites are not required to get the same consent. "This results in rules that apply very different regulatory regimes based on the identity of the online actor," the White House said.

Websites are governed by a less restrictive set of privacy rules overseen by the Federal Trade Commission.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai in a statement praised the decision of Congress to overturn "privacy regulations designed to benefit one group of favored companies over another group of disfavored companies." Last week, Pai said consumers would have privacy protections even without the Obama internet provider rules, but critics say they will weaker.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes the measure, said companies "should not be able to use and sell the sensitive data they collect from you without your permission."

An Internet & Television Association statement called the repeal "an important step toward restoring consumer privacy protections that apply consistently."

One critic of the repeal, Craig Aaron, president of Free Press advocacy group, said major Silicon Valley companies shied away from the fight over the rules because they profit from consumer data.

"There are a lot of companies that are very concerned about drawing attention to themselves and being regulated on privacy issues, and are sitting this out in a way that they haven't sat out previous privacy issues," Aaron said.

Representative Michael Capuano, a Massachusetts Democrat, said Tuesday that Comcast could know his personal information because he looked up his mother's medical condition and his purchase history. "Just last week I bought underwear on the internet. Why should you know what size I take? Or the color?" Capuano asked. "They are going to sell it to the underwear companies."

Comcast declined to comment.

Representative Michael Burgess, a Texas Republican, said the rules "unfairly skews the market in favor" of websites that are free to collect data without consent.

Republican commissioners, including Pai, said in October that the rules would unfairly give websites like Facebook, Twitter Inc or Google the ability to harvest more data than internet service providers and thus further dominate digital advertising. The FCC earlier this month delayed the data rules from taking effect. (Reporting by David Shepardson. Additional reporting by David Ingram and Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool)


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