The internet histories of Congress aren’t as available as you might think

It's not like there's a shop where you can just walk up and say, I'd like that dude's internet history.
Image: RICHARD DREW/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And of course, very often these days, crowdfunding campaigns, too.

You might’ve recently come across a link or eight for two different GoFundMe campaigns bouncing around the social web. Their aim? To crowdfund the purchase of members of Congress’ internet histories. Both campaigns were inspired by Republicans in the Senate and the House, who recently voted in favor of taking away privacy protections on your internet data, which were set up by former President Barack Obama.

Obama’s privacy measures never sprang to life, though, because of the aforementioned vote by both houses of Congress. Now internet service providers can pimp out your data for the foreseeable future (assuming President Donald Trump signs the legislation, which he’s basically expected to do).

The two GoFundMe campaigns are a sort of populist revenge pipe dream. You think you can buy our data? OK, we’ll buy yours! And then, we’ll make it searchable, so everyone will see all the weird shit you like! And so on.

The first one was launched by Adam McElhaney, who says he’s a privacy activist and engineer. As of this writing, his campaign’s raised more than $160,000 out of an initial $10,000 goal, though the campaign’s corresponding website says the fundraising goal is actually $1 million.

The website says he wants to buy the internet histories of “all legislators, congressmen, executives, and their families,” and doesn’t specify where the money will go if he doesn’t get to his goal, or finds the goal unattainable in some other way. We’ve reached out via multiple mediums to ask him a few questions, but he’s yet to respond as of this writing.

The other campaign was started by Misha Collins, the actor of Supernatural fame who lives in Los Angeles, California. His campaign’s raised around $70,000 as of this writing, out of a stated goal of $500 million. Collins’s goal is to buy the internet histories of those who voted to rescind data privacy measures, and says money will go to the ACLU if he doesn’t reach his goal.

But some cold water’s been thrown on those campaigns by a guy who wants to do something similar. Max Temkin, a co-founder of Cards Against Humanity, recently tweeted about his plan to buy Congress’s internet data and publish it “if this shit passes.”

Temkin called McElhaney’s plan a “scam” because McElhaney “cannot possibly” make the campaign’s promise come true. And while Temkin only tweeted this and therefore did not elaborate much, that sentiment has been echoed elsewhere.

Techdirt on Wednesday wrote that a potentially fatal flaw in the multiple GoFundMe plans to buy the internet histories of members of Congress is that nowhere is there some kind of store that sells data on, say, Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell in neat little packages labeled with their faces.

Internet service providers suck up personal data so they can sell it off to whichever advertiser’s willing to pay the most to get their ads on your screen, but those service providers aren’t selling “Colin Daileda” (it me). They’re selling “a male probably in his 20s though he has gray hair so maybe 30s, likes Washington sports teams except he also likes the Dallas Cowboys for some reason, and has a habit of buying more books than can possibly fit in a New York City apartment.” And again, that data isn’t stored in a vial. It’s just sold to advertisers every time you visit a webpage with ads.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to figure out the internet history of Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell, it’s just a far more complex process than writing a check to an ISP. Or anything some cheeky GoFundMe campaign is so easily and readily capable of shoving back in Big Internet’s face.

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