The Federal Communications Commission has put in place a new set of rules that will force broadband providers to obtain consent from their subscribers before sharing their data with paying third-parties.
Under the new rules, Internet service providers (ISPs), such as AT&T, Comcast or Verizon must notify customers of the types of information they collect, explain how and for what purpose the data is collected and identify with whom they share the data.
“Today, the Commission takes a significant step to safeguard consumer privacy in this time of rapid technological change, as we adopt rules that will allow consumers to choose how their Internet Service Provider (ISP) uses and shares their personal data,” FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said. “The bottom line is that it’s your data. How it’s used and shared should be your choice.”
The FCC, which voted 3-2 in favor of the new rules, said ISPs will have to “obtain affirmative permission from consumers — opt-in consent — to use and share sensitive information.”
Sensitive information includes precise geo-location (like the real world location of a mobile device), children’s information, health information, financial information, Social Security numbers, Web browsing history, app usage history and the content of communication.
Use and sharing of non-sensitive information would not be regulated, although the FCC said ISPs must allow consumers to opt-out if they wish to do so.
Privacy watchdogs seem largely pleased with the FCC order.
American Civil Liberties Union senior policy analyst Jay Stanley called the ruling a major win for privacy, but said he fully expects ISPs to fight the order.
“Today’s vote is a historic win for privacy and free expression and for the vitality of the internet. Just as telephone companies are not allowed to listen in to our calls or sell information about who we talk to, our internet providers shouldn’t be allowed to monitor our internet usage for profit,” Stanley said in a press release.
“The FCC’s order is not airtight. We can expect the industry to try to exploit every crack in these protections, and hope that the spirit of vigorous oversight and consumer protection that has animated this proceeding will continue. ”
Stanley’s concerns are valid. It is very likely the FCC ruling will be challenged in court. And the Internet & Television Association, the principal trade association of the U.S. cable industry, may be the one to take up that challenge.
“The Commission’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. 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,” the association said in a statement. “…the federal government should develop a common approach to online privacy, as there is no lawful, factual or sound policy basis to justify a discriminatory approach that treats ISPs differently from some of the largest companies in the Internet ecosystem that engage in similar practices but operate under different regulatory standards.”