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US House votes to block Obama-era online privacy rule

The US House of Representatives has voted to block online privacy regulations issued during the final months of the Obama administration, a first step towards allowing internet providers to sell the browsing habits of their customers.

The Federal Communications Commission rule was designed to give consumers greater control over how internet service providers share information, but critics said it would have added costs, stifled innovation and picked winners and losers among internet companies.

The House voted 215-205 to reject the rule, and sent the legislation to President Donald Trump for his signature.

The vote is part of an extensive effort Republicans have undertaken to void an array of regulations issued during the final months of Democratic president Barack Obama's tenure.

Leading Democrat Nancy Pelosi said the Republican-led effort was putting profits over the privacy concerns of Americans.

"Overwhelmingly, the American people do not agree with Republicans that this information should be sold, and it certainly should not be sold without your permission," Ms Pelosi said.

"Our broadband providers know deeply personal information about us and our families."

Internet companies like Google do not have to ask users' permission before tracking what sites they visit. Republicans and industry groups have blasted that discrepancy, saying it was unfair and confusing for consumers.

Proponents of the privacy measure argued that the company that sells you your internet connection can see even more about consumers, such as every website they visit and who they exchange emails with.

Undoing the FCC regulation leaves online information in a murky area. Experts say federal law still requires broadband providers to protect customer information, but it does not spell out how or what companies must do. That is what the FCC rule aimed to do.

The Trump-appointed chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, is a critic of the broadband privacy rules and has said he wants to roll them back.

He and other Republicans want a different federal agency, the Federal Trade Commission, to police privacy for broadband companies like AT&T and internet companies like Google.

Republican legislators said they care about consumer privacy as much as Democrats do.

Broadband providers do not currently fall under FTC jurisdiction, and advocates say the FTC has historically been a weaker agency than the FCC.

AP

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