There’s an ancient adage—ancient in terms of our Internet Age, at least: If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product.  Do you think Facebook is free?  Take a look at those ads in your Facebook feed, and over on the right-hand side of the page.  Ever wonder why so many of them seem tailor-made for you?  Your spouse sees different ads.  So do your children.  And your parents.  And your friends.

That’s because all of the one billion-plus active users of Facebook, all of whom are getting this wonderful service “for free,” are not Facebook’s customers; they’re Facebook’s product.  Facebook’s real customers are the companies that place those ads.  Every time you log on to Facebook, you’re being sold, bit by bit (no pun intended), to those companies.  They can target their ads so well because you give Facebook all of the information its ad-sales team needs to determine whether you’re likely to find a particular ad of interest.  That information includes not only the personal details that you enter on your profile, but the posts that you “react to” (“like” is so six months ago!) and comment on, and perhaps most importantly the links that you click.

But there’s more: Have you ever clicked on an ad on a different, “free” website, and then noticed that the same ad or similar ones suddenly start showing up on Facebook?  Welcome to the glorious world of “ad trackers.”  Unless you take preventive measures—turn off cookies in your web browser; install ad blockers; surf the web only in “private” mode—your browsing history will follow you from site to site, allowing advertisers to erect electronic billboards aimed just at you at every waypoint on the World Wide Web.

Most people probably understand all of this intuitively, even if they aren’t aware of the technological means by which it is accomplished.  What they may not realize, however, is that the ancient adage will soon no longer be true, thanks to the freedom-loving Republicans in Congress.

I hope that last line didn’t raise false hopes, however: Under the legislation that Congress passed on a party-line vote at the end of March, and which President Trump signed on April 3, you will still be the product.  The difference now is that you will be the product even when you’re paying for a product—in this case, your access to the internet, through an internet service provider (ISP).

Under this law, your ISP will be allowed to use any personal information that they have on file for you (including your Social Security number) to sell slots to advertisers.  Or, rather, to sell you to those advertisers.

And this legislation is the gift that keeps on giving.  Forget about those preventive measures I mentioned above; they won’t do you any good.  Your ISP will be able to monetize your entire web-browsing history as well.

Do you think private browsing will protect you?  Think again.  All private browsing does is keep your local machine from recording your browsing history.  Your ISP can still record that history, because, in order to serve up webpages to your browser (even in private mode), they have to know the site that you wish to visit.  When your wife starts seeing ads on your shared computer for Playboy, good luck explaining to her that you’ve been reading it in private mode “for the articles.”

Do you know anyone who has ever said, “I want to pay $50 or $100 every month for internet access, so that my ISP can market me to advertisers”?  The very thought is ludicrous.  No “consumer” asked for this legislation.  Not a single one.

So why did the Republican Congress pass it, and why did the champion of the little guy sign it?  Because it’s still business as usual in Washington, D.C., and every ISP under the sun, from AT&T and Verizon and Sprint to Comcast and Charter and Time Warner, dumped thousands of dollars, and often tens of thousands of dollars, and in some cases even hundreds of thousands of dollars, into the most recent campaigns of the Republicans who voted for this legislation.  As The Verge reported on March 29 in “The 265 members of Congress who sold you out to ISPs, and how much it cost to buy them,” only one senator (Luther Strange of Alabama, who was appointed in February to fill Jeff Sessions’s seat when he was confirmed as attorney general, and therefore had no campaign committee to receive funds) and two congressmen received less than four figures from “the telecom industry and employees of those corporations.”

Come to think of it, the ancient adage may not need to be modified after all.  You didn’t pay the Republicans in Congress, so you became the product that they sold to the people who did pay them, and quite handsomely.

#DrainTheSwamp?  Why, all it needed was a new advertising campaign!