FCC Privacy Proposal Draws Public Response

Privacy groups see it as strong new regs on ISPs
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Industry players, and government officials, were beginning to weigh in on FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's modified broadband privacy proposal, which was billed as more in line with the Federal Trade Commission's approach to ISP customer privacy ISPs had sought.

But the reaction of privacy groups seeking strong regs on ISPs suggests the pivot was not sufficient to get the industry onboard given that it included Web browsing and app histories among the info sharing that must get user sign-off up front. That was confirmed by one industry source who saw the FCC's expansive view of sensitive info requiring customer opt-in as maintaining the gulf between how ISPs and edge providers like Google, are treated.

“We know that consumers care deeply about their privacy, and I am pleased to see the FCC moving forward to protect the privacy of millions of broadband users across the country," said Chair Edith Ramirez. "The FTC, which has protected consumers’ privacy for decades in both the online and brick-and-mortar worlds, provided formal comment to the FCC on the proposed rulemaking, and I believe that our input has helped strengthen this important initiative.”

Wheeler had said he was in contact with the FTC about the proposal, which had buoyed ISPs pushing more for the FTC model, which tailors the protection of info to its sensitivity.

The Open Technology Institute was applauding what it saw as strong new rules.

"Consumers have no choice but to share lots of details regarding their online activities with their ISPs—but that’s only for traffic routing purposes, and not because they want their ISPs to be able to use and share that information for any other reason they please," said Laura Moy, an attorney representing OTI. "The Chairman’s proposal keeps control of information widely considered to be private, such as browsing history and application usage, firmly in the hands of consumers, where it belongs.

"Although we cautioned against a framework that offers less protection for 'non-sensitive' information," said Moy, "we are optimistic that this framework can still protect consumers as long as the FCC defines 'sensitive' broadly and thoughtfully. We look forward to continuing to work with the FCC to ensure that by the end of this month, strong broadband privacy protections are put in place."

Among the categories of sensitive information the FCC will require opt-in consent for sharing is children's info as well

as browser and app histories more generally.

That was welcome news to James Steyer, founder of Common Sense Kids Action, the advocacy arm of Common Sense.

"We applaud Chairman Wheeler for proposing strong new protections for the privacy of children and families in their online lives, including the right for broadband customers to make informed choices about the use and sharing of their and their kids’ online information, such as web browsing and app activity," said Steyer. "Common Sense has long advocated for increased online privacy protections at home and in school, and this proposal is a critical step in the right direction.  We look forward to supporting the FCC as it refines and finalizes the rule this month as well as to supporting similarly robust rules for other online actors."

“Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and Frontier Communications have a unique window into our online lives because they connect us to the Internet. ISPs must not be able to use the vast amount of information that they can get about our online lives simply because they provide the connection for any other purpose without our explicit permission,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director.

“Ultimately we also need privacy regulations covering so-called ‘edge providers’ like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter,” said Simpson. “Nonetheless the FCC’s proposed broadband privacy regulations are critical step in the right direction.”

“Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and Frontier Communications have a unique window into our online lives because they connect us to the Internet. ISPs must not be able to use the vast amount of information that they can get about our online lives simply because they provide the connection for any other purpose without our explicit permission,” said John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director.

But he calls the FCC proposal, which is scheduled for a vote Oct. 27, a step in the right direction. But he says the next step needs to be tougher regs on edge providers. FCC Chairman Tom wheeler says the commission is not authorized to regulate the edge.

“Ultimately we also need privacy regulations covering so-called ‘edge providers’ like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter,” said Simpson.

Tech coalition CALinnovates agreed.

“This version, like the first, falls woefully short in its noble goal to safeguard consumer data and increase transparency for the public," said Tim Sparapani, senior policy counsel with CALinnovates. "Subjecting the exact same data to different and arbitrary rules depending upon a company’s primary offering in today’s era of vertical integration does not increase consumer privacy. It is also blind to the realities of the marketplace. We need 21st Century privacy rules to govern a 21st Century data market.” said

"Chairman Wheeler has indicated that some favored companies will be allowed to practice permissionless innovation outside the FCC’s jurisdiction while other disfavored entities must operate under the microscope despite the fact that the data is one in the same. Businesses of all types today are data companies first and foremost, whether they make software or deliver internet access – or both. And innovation can and should spring from all types of companies, ISPs included," he said. "Today, Verizon owns Yahoo, AOL and Huffington Post, and the line between ISPs and edge providers has been increasingly blurred. Consumers will be no better off under this scheme than the previous one, but they may be worse off than they are today."

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