On a 3-2 party line vote, the FCC adopted new rules today that require broadband internet service providers (ISPs) to implement privacy requirements for subscribers, which the Commission says in a statement gives “broadband customers the tools they need to make informed decisions about how their information is used and shared by their ISPs.” The rules reportedly establish a framework of customer consent required for ISPs to use and share their customers’ personal information.
ISP industry associations have been arguing that it’s befuddling and perhaps downright biased that the regulations are stricter than the FTC standards, which the likes of Google and Facebook live under. The rules place broadband providers under stronger privacy oversight than those companies, which are watched over by the FTC and not the FCC. The FTC has limited ability to create privacy rules, but as has been shown in today’s news, the FCC does not. Proponents of the FTC’s regulatory touch are not happy.
The NCTA responded with a big frown by stating: “The Commission’s decision to break with the FTC’s proven privacy framework in favor of a cobbled-together approach that abandons principles of fair competition is profoundly disappointing. Instead of creating a consistent and uniform approach to privacy that consumers can easily understand, today’s result speaks more to regulatory opportunism than reasoned policy.
“We strongly agree with the bipartisan Commissioners’ comments that the federal government should develop a common approach to online privacy, as there is no lawful, factual or sound policy basis to justify a discriminatory approach that treats ISPs differently from some of the largest companies in the internet ecosystem that engage in similar practices but operate under different regulatory standards.”
How this affects AT&T’s plans to acquire Time Warner for $85.4 billion also comes into play with this FCC decision. The companies have talked about uniting their assets to make moves in the targeted advertising space, but the Commission’s decision here could potentially put a speed bump in the way of that strategy given the kinds of consumer data that would be necessary to see that succeed.
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation thinks that the order represents a dramatic departure from the FTC’s guidelines and effective oversight. “Instead of aligning with the successful FTC model, Chairman Tom Wheeler takes a long stride backwards towards a Title II of the 20th century,” the foundation says in a statement. “Counting browsing and app history as sensitive data are a particularly disappointing departure from the flexible oversight regime that has helped make the U.S. data-fueled economy the envy of the world.”
Former Congressman Rick Boucher from Virginia, who chaired the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and the Internet, also is not chuffed. “The FCC’s new privacy rules board up the windows while leaving the doors unlocked. Rather than expanding the definition of sensitive data to include all web browsing and app usage history, the FCC should adopt the FTC’s more sensible framework as the privacy requirements for ISPs so the entire internet ecosystem is governed by the same rules,” he says. “The bifurcated system that the Commission has created will surely harm consumers by creating confusion. There is a better way.”
On the other side of the argument are many consumer advocate reps, including Dallas Harris, policy fellow at Public Knowledge.
“This marks a significant step forward in protecting consumer privacy. For the first time, internet service providers will be required to get consumer consent prior to using the sensitive information they collect. While much remains to be done to protect consumers online writ large, the Commission’s rules establish a baseline level of protection for all,” Harris says. “Thanks to the rules passed by the Commission today, consumers now have more control over how their information is used online than ever before. Yet, consumer protection rules are only as strong as their ability to be enforced, so it is imperative that the Commission follow these strong rules with strict enforcement.”
Stay tuned for coverage of an avalanche of opinions over the next few days and weeks that certainly are coming down the mountain in reference this topic.
Filed Under: Industry regulations