FCC Proposal Would Ban Web Providers’ Sharing of Users’ Online Activity with Advertisers

Sunday, October 09, 2016
(graphic: Comstock/Getty Images)

By Tali Arbel, AP Technology Writer


A new privacy proposal unveiled Thursday will require broadband providers like Verizon and Comcast to get your permission before sharing with advertisers what you've been doing on your phone or computer.


The Federal Communication Commission has changed its broadband-privacy plan since it was initially proposed in March. The wireless and cable industries had complained that under the initial plan, they would be more heavily regulated than digital-ad behemoths like Google and Facebook, which are monitored by a different agency, the Federal Trade Commission.


The FCC explained its new approach Thursday and plans to vote on it Oct. 27. The revised proposal says broadband providers don't have to get permission from customers ahead of time to use some information deemed "non-sensitive," like names and addresses. The previous plan called for customers to expressly approve the use of that information.


This time around, customers still need to OK broadband providers' using and sharing a slew of their data, like a phone's physical location, websites browsed and apps used, and what's in emails.


And customers must be told what types of information is kept and how it will be used. Agency officials said customers can also still say no to internet service providers using other data, like names and addresses.


Drawing on customer information could help broadband providers make more money from digital advertising. Verizon, for example, bought AOL last year for $4.4 billion and is spending $4.8 billion more to buy Yahoo in a bid to build an ad business.


The FCC proposal also requires broadband providers to tell customers within 30 days if their data has been hacked.


In a statement, Verizon's chief privacy officer, Karen Zacharia, said that the company was encouraged that the FCC "seems to be moving" to an approach that was more consistent with how the FTC regulates internet companies. But trade groups for the cable and phone-company industries chided the plan because of differences with the FTC approach to regulating consumer privacy.


Several consumer-advocacy groups praised the FCC's plan. The proposal was a good defense "against internet service providers' unpermitted use of personal information," Free Press Policy Counsel Gaurav Laroia said in a statement.


The proposal can change before the five FCC commissioners vote on it.


To Learn More:

Lawsuit Accuses Facebook of Secretly Mining Users’ Health Data to Use in Targeted Advertising (by Nicholas Iovino, Courthouse News Service)

FCC Urged by Watchdog Groups to Enact Sweeping Privacy Rules for Broadband Providers (by David Shepardson, Reuters)

FCC Decision Allows Your Online Activity to Continue Being Tracked (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Millions of Cell Phone Users’ Internet Activity Secretly Tracked for Years by Verizon and AT&T (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Verizon is the Only Telecom that Retains Text Message Content (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Supreme Court to Decide if AT&T Has Personal Privacy Rights (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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