Don't Waste Your Money on Campaigns to Buy Congress's Internet Data, Ya Dummies

Image via Getty.
Image via Getty.

Days after Congress signed away your right to internet privacy, the Washington Post reports that protesters have donated over $200,000 to buy internet histories of Republican politicians. While a funny idea, donating to these campaigns is about as advisable as running your bills through a paper shredder and using that as fertilizer.


One of the campaigns, started by Supernatural actor Misha Collins, aims to raise $500 million. In the event that it won’t (and it won’t, because that is insane), Collins says he will donate it to the ACLU. If that’s the case, why not just donate your money directly to the ACLU?

Look—I, too, relish the idea of creeping on Steve King’s browser history and expose that he’s probably a Twitter egg who yells at black women to abort their babies on Twitter all day, that Devin Nunes maybe has a Pinterest board where he collects photos of vegetables serendipitously shaped like Putin’s face, or that Mike Pence in all likelihood gets off on 1800s-era etchings of Amish women hanging laundry (would that even surprise you?). But if you think this is the form data comes in, or that companies are going to sell highly specific personal information to a random person with a GoFundMe account or YouTube commenter Drumpf_H8r_Man4Lyfe, you are not paying attention.

First, there’s this little issue to consider, via the Post:

Many Internet service providers (ISPs) have privacy policies that may cover this type of information. If an ISP shares or sells an individual’s personal information in violation of its own privacy policy, a state attorney general could take the company to court, said Travis LeBlanc, a former enforcement bureau chief at the Federal Communications Commission. State attorneys general could also sue ISPs whose data practices could be construed as “unfair” to other businesses. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has said what’s left of his agency’s privacy authority still allows him to bring lawsuits against companies — he just won’t be able to write rules that look similar to what Congress rejected this week.

This isn’t like buying a used car or ordering a soggy meatball sub on Seamless. It’s very unlikely that you’ll be able to hand over your credit card and get a person’s entire internet history. Here’s what Chris Calabrese, policy vice president at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told the Post:

What generally happens in this industry is that a marketer will ask a company such as Facebook to advertise with a certain demographic — say, men between the ages of 45 and 55. The two companies will settle on a deal, and the marketer’s ads will be displayed on Facebook to that group, but the marketing company will never see specific information about those people, which will continue to be held by the data company (or in this case, the ISP).

“That’s the most likely way you’ll have your Web surfing history sold,” said Calabrese — which means getting the raw data on, say, President Trump could be harder than you think. For that matter, other legal analysts said, it’s not clear why Internet providers would comply with consumer requests for data on the politicians that helped ease industry regulations in the first place.


Also, Trump hasn’t signed the bill, so there’s nothing to purchase, yet. For those reasons, you should be wary of any GoFundMe account that claims to buy a politician’s ISP history. Cards Against Humanity creator Max Temkin has pledged to attempt to acquire the data if and when it becomes available, and even he is warning against crowdfunding sites:


In a Reddit post, Temkin wrote that “even if we get this data, it’s a symbolic victory at best.” If you want real change, fund organizations doing good work. Support local pro-woman, immigrant, LGBT, and privacy candidates who need your help to unseat crusty Republicans in 2018. Or better yet, consider running yourself. Don’t throw your money at a meme.

Prachi Gupta is a senior reporter at Jezebel.



Actually, I hear Pence’s search history is filled with restaurant porn, which shows the delights and perils that await unsuspecting men who dine with women other than their wives. Kinky shit, and it explains a lot.