Oct. 6, 2016
Today, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler took a strong stance on privacy and consumer protection by circulating to his fellow Commissioners a proposal to establish strong rules protecting the privacy of broadband customers. The proposal—which is expected to be voted on by the full Commission on October 27—would require ISPs to get affirmative opt-in consent from their customers before using information like browsing habits and app usage for non-service-related purposes, such as advertising.
OTI has long advocated for strong FCC privacy rules to protect the private information that broadband consumers have no choice but to share with their broadband providers. To ensure that online communications are routed to the right place, consumers have to share with their broadband provider what websites they visit, when they visit them, what apps they use, and often the content of their online communications. Strong privacy rules are needed to promote widespread consumer trust in broadband networks.
At the urging of OTI and other public interest organizations, the proposal also would explicitly reserve the FCC’s ability to determine, on a case-by-case basis, the permissibility of “pay-for-privacy” programs, in which ISPs charge customers different monthly prices based on their privacy options. Unfortunately, and contrary to OTI’s recommendation, the proposal would create a regulatory carve-out for de-identified information, and would offer a lower level of protection for information the FCC deems “non-sensitive.”
The following quote can be attributed to Laura Moy, Acting Director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Public Representation, which represents OTI on this issue:
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. 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, 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.
The following quote can be attributed to Sarah Morris, Director of Open Internet Policy at the Open Technology Institute:
When the FCC reclassified broadband access as a Title II telecommunications service last year, it recognized not just the importance of an open internet, but the need for effective privacy protections for broadband consumers as well. A strong Order in this proceeding will help ensure that goal is realized and consumers have choice and control over how their broadband data is used and shared. Consumers shouldn’t have to choose between privacy and internet access, and we are pleased to see the FCC moving forward with robust protections for consumers.