FCC Seeks Stricter Privacy Rules for ISPs

    Mar 22, 2016

    Earlier in March, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) negotiated a deal with Verizon in which the company agreed to pay $1.35 million for using technology that enabled marketers to track its customers' online activity, CNET reported.

    The FCC, according to CNET, also has proposed regulations meant to protect private consumer information by:

    • Requiring Internet service providers (ISPs) to obtain customers’ permission before sharing their data with third parties
    • Preventing phone companies and cable operators from repurposing and reselling what they learn about consumers’ phone or TV viewing activity to marketers

    Chairman Tom Wheeler said the FCC will vote to open the proposal for public comment at its March 31 meeting. Actual rules likely would be voted on later this year after the comment period ends.

    If approved, the proposal would put in place the strongest set of privacy regulations ever established for ISPs, according to CNET. The proposed broadband and wireless rules to give consumers more control over their data are similar to cable TV and telephone services, which the FCC already regulates.

    Specifically, the rules would:

    • Require ISPs to clearly disclose how personal consumer data is collected, how it's shared with third parties, and how it's used by these outside firms
    • Mandate that customers actively choose to participate in the program rather than be automatically enrolled
    • Direct ISPs to strengthen security practices for customer data

    According to CNET, the regulations would also set broadband and wireless providers apart from Internet and social media sites, including Google or Facebook, which also collect large amounts of consumer data that is used for marketing. But these companies follow different rules because they are monitored by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has limited authority to create specific regulation. The FTC monitors only data collection practices in an attempt to prevent misuse or fraud.

    Wheeler may be in for a fight from broadband and wireless industry leaders, who have noted the discrepancy. The lobby group National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) issued a statement saying it was “disappointed by Chairman Wheeler's apparent decision to propose prescriptive rules on ISPs that are at odds with the requirements imposed on other large online entities.”

    AT&T has said it’s unfair to impose stricter regulation on broadband providers while Google and others, whose businesses are based on advertising, have less stringent rules. AT&T also contends that ISPs collect less data than sites such as Google and Facebook.

    "Consumers expect and deserve consistent privacy protections for their online data, regardless of which company is collecting it and the technology used to collect it," Bob Quinn, senior vice president of AT&T's federal regulatory affairs, wrote in a recent blog post.


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