FCC’s Landmark Broadband Privacy Rules Draw Praise, Criticism

While advocacy groups cheered new regulations by the Federal Communications Commission to limit how broadband providers share consumer data, the cable and advertising industries criticized the rules in tough terms.

In the past few years, the Federal Communications Commission has made several major decisions affecting nearly every part of the U.S. communications infrastructure.

The FCC’s latest move, a new set of regulations limiting what internet service providers can do with consumer data, significantly shifts the nature of online advertising.

“The bottom line is that it’s your data. How it’s used and shared should be your choice,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in an FCC statement [PDF].

The rules, first proposed in March and approved along partly lines last week, require ISPs to obtain a consumer’s permission to collect and sell personal data to advertisers. Accordingly, groups from across the communications spectrum had strong reactions. Among them:

NCTA—The Internet and Television Association. The cable-industry group argued that the rules veer from regulations outlined by the Federal Trade Commission. “The [FCC’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,” NCTA said in a statement. “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.”

American Cable Association. While crediting the FCC for making some changes to the initial proposal to favor smaller ISPs, ACA, which represents smaller cable providers, complained that those changes don’t go far enough. “The newly adopted rules still are inconsistent with the expectations of ISPs and their customers for the collection and sharing of data, do not treat all participants in the internet ecosystem alike, and will impose overly burdensome requirements on smaller ISPs,” ACA President and CEO Matthew Polka said in a statement.

Association of National Advertisers. On the other side of the data equation, ANA strongly denounced the rules as “extreme overreach” and pledged that it would challenge them in Congress or the courts. “No one doubts that sensitive consumer data exists and that it should be protected,” ANA said in a statement. “However, when virtually all ISP and app use data is treated as sensitive, the public will become desensitized to what is truly significant and what deserves enhanced notice and regulation.”

Center for Digital Democracy. Consumer advocacy groups, not surprisingly, lauded the FCC action. The Center for Digital Democracy described the rules as “a very early Christmas present.” The new regulations “will help ensure that a consumer’s most personal information—about their finances, health, geo-location, children—will not be swept into this far-reaching apparatus” of internet monitoring by ISPs, Executive Director Jeff Chester wrote in a statement. “Safeguards to prevent unfair ‘pay-for-privacy’ schemes are also part of this new FCC order—and we expect the commission to be vigilant to make sure consumers aren’t forced, because of financial circumstances, to give up their privacy.”

Public Knowledge. This online advocacy group is placing a premium on enforcement. “Thanks to the rules passed by the commission today, consumers now have more control over how their information is used online than ever before,” said policy fellow Dallas Harris. “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.”


Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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