Technology

After Congress Rolls Back ISP Privacy Rules, Backlash Puts Telecom on Defense

By / Apr 3, 2017 (iStock/Thinkstock)

With the passage of a bill rolling back consumer privacy rules on internet providers, public backlash has been picking up—leading major companies, as well as trade groups like USTelecom, to reassure customers that their privacy is safe.

Last week’s passage of a bill rolling back ISP privacy protections is creating a bit of a messaging problem for major internet service providers.

And groups representing those ISPs are also working to help clear the air on the issue.

Major internet providers—along with members of Congress—faced public backlash after the passage of the bill, which rolled back Obama-era Federal Communications Commission regulations that limited what ISPs could do with data. President Donald Trump signed the bill into law on Monday evening.

On Friday, three of the largest internet providers in the country—Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T—each emphasized that they don’t plan to sell your personal browser history.

“Let’s set the record straight,” stated Verizon Chief Privacy Officer Karen Zacharia. “Verizon does not sell the personal web browsing history of our customers. We don’t do it and that’s the bottom line.”

This sentiment was shared by USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter, who spoke out on the website Axios about what he characterized as misinformation.

“In a vacuum of information, this sent pockets of the internet into a panic,” Spalter said of the bill’s passage. “But consumers wake up today to the same online world and digital protections they enjoyed one week ago.”

The trade group head noted that sensitive data wasn’t being shared by individual service providers and that individual websites were already sharing personal information along the lines of what internet providers were being accused of. Additionally, he argued that the FCC’s privacy-protection actions got in the way of an existing policy approach by the Federal Trade Commission.

“Congress did not vote down consumer privacy protections. It simply rejected an attempt to create a disjointed, separate and unequal regulatory regime,” Spalter argued. “Lawmakers were right to take this stand for better public policy, and consumers are better off for it.”

Nonetheless, skeptics of the ISPs and trade groups’ arguments remain. Engadget, for example, points out that while personally identifiable information isn’t shared by ISPs, anonymized information is often still allowed, which is typically enough for advertisers to create a profile based on your usage.

Meanwhile, Gigi Sohn, who served as a senior counselor for Tom Wheeler, the Obama-era FCC chairman who approved the regulations, noted to Ad Age that the rollback of the FCC’s authority would create a void where there was no firm regulation—just promises on the part of ISPs.

“What we’re left with is a period of uncertainty where the carriers may do certain things but it’s unclear,” Sohn explained. “Does the FCC have jurisdiction or does the FTC have jurisdiction? … I don’t think that it is healthy for consumers, carriers, advertisers or the American economy for all of this to be in limbo.”

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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