FCC Introduces Amended Version of Consumer Privacy Rules

The Federal Communications Commission has offered new regulations — modeled on the Federal Trade Commission’s Internet-privacy policies — that scale-back some of consumer privacy rules in the first version. Internet providers must still get the consumer’s approval before selling her browsing history or other sensitive information to a third-party, but they are now allowed to market more data. Consumer advocates have given wide approval to the new plan. The FCC will vote on the revised regulations later this month.

The Wall Street Journal quotes Center for Democracy and Technology executive Chris Calabrese as saying that, “these rules will extend crucial protections to broadband customers, who have no choice but to disclose many of their digital activities and communications to broadband providers.”

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Also up for a vote are the FCC’s new rules for the business data market, again scaled back from the original plan. FCC chair Tom Wheeler also “modified a proposal for opening up the market for TV set-top boxes, though that plan still faces opposition” from the cable/satellite industry.

Internet service providers “are seeking to monetize the valuable data they collect from residential broadband customers,” and believe the FCC’s original privacy proposal would “disadvantage them compared with Internet giants, such as Alphabet’s Google or Facebook,” which are governed by FTC rules. The new proposal adheres to FTC’s approach to data and privacy, requiring consumers to opt-in for marketing of sensitive information to third parties and allowing ISPs to use of non-sensitive information unless customers opt out.

Verizon chief privacy officer Karen Zacharia says her company is “encouraged that the FCC appears to have taken seriously the input” of ISPs and others. Not everyone was so enthusiastic, however, and it’s likely that the provision “requiring consumer opt-in for use of browser search history … could remain controversial.” Google, for one, termed this “unjustified.”

WSJ notes that, “the new proposal is an instance of big Internet companies joining with cable firms — whom they often oppose in other areas — to push for all the companies to maximize their ability to use consumer data.” Or, as Public Knowledge executive Harold Feld puts it, “This a case where all the foxes have gotten together and said, ‘We’d all like to keep our monopoly on the henhouse, but all of us would like to make sure there are no barriers to getting into the henhouse’.”