Privacy Groups Pan Anonymized Customer Data Carveout

Say ISPs have not demonstrated benefit to broadband consumers

A group comprising more than 30 privacy organizations is calling on FCC chairman Tom Wheeler not to create a carveout for anonymized data in his broadband privacy proposal.

In a letter to the chairman Wednesday (Sept. 7), the group said such a carveout would be anti-consumer and fail to square with statute.

The chairman's broadband proposal would require that broadband subs agree beforehand to most third-party uses of personal data like what sites they visit  -- an "opt-in" regime -- but ISPs including those represented by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association have called for allowing "de-identified" information to be shared. The signers of the letter, which include Public Knowledge, Free Press and the Center for Digital Democracy, said it is too easy to reconstruct identities from such anonymized information.

Related:Unlocking Privacy Rules [subscription required]

The group letter said customer information, anonymized or not, belongs to the customer, and ISPs have failed to show how those customers would benefit from the carveout. Instead, it would be an "an attractive way for [ISPs] to circumvent the vital consumer protections that will be put in place by this rule."

The FCC deeded itself broadband privacy oversight when it reclassified ISPsa s Title II common carriers no longer subject to Federal Trade Commission privacy protections.

The group also wants the FCC to prevent arbitration clauses in privacy disputes between ISPs and customers so that consmers are not giving up their right to sue when they sign up. Moreover, it registered concerns with pay for privacy, in which customers would be offered a benefit, like a lower bill, for allowing third-party use of their data.

Drew Johnson, who heads Protect Internet Freedom, a group opposed to the FCC new broadband privacy regs, said that the vast majority of the comments to the FCC on the issue opposed the proposal. 

“More than a quarter-million internet users across the country have spoken out and filed comments against the FCC’s baldly transparent proposal on expansive new privacy rules that regulate certain companies while exempting some of the web’s biggest data collectors," he said. "If the FCC truly values public input on its proposed regulations, it can’t ignore the fact that nearly 8 out of 10 comments submitted into the docket from the American people were against its proposed privacy NPRM—not in support of it."