Mar 31, 2017

5 things to know about Congress' rejection of FCC privacy rules

The House on Tuesday voted to block implementation of new online privacy rules rushed through the FCC in the final days of former chairman Tom Wheeler's tenure. In a vacuum of information, this sent pockets of the internet into a panic. But consumers wake up today to the same online world and digital protections they enjoyed one week ago.

Here are five reasons why:

  • Your most sensitive data—financial, Social Security, about your kids—remains fully protected. There are strict and enforceable protections under existing law safeguarding consumers' most sensitive information. These remain wholly in force. For example, the Children's Online Privacy Protection Rule has been in place since the days of dial-up.
  • No one is buying anyone's individual browser history and putting it online. Step away from the Kickstarter campaigns. Such activity remains patently illegal.
  • Your browser history is already being aggregated and sold to advertising networks—by virtually every site you visit on the internet. Consumers' browsing history is bought and sold across massive online advertising networks every day. This is the reason so many popular online destinations and services are "free." And, it's why the ads you see on your favorite sites—large and small—always seem so relevant to what you've recently been shopping for online. Of note, internet service providers are relative bit players in the $83 billion digital ad market, which made singling them out for heavier regulations so suspect.
  • Consumers expect and deserve one standard for online privacy. According to a national survey conducted last May by Public Opinion Strategies, 94% of consumers believe all companies should be held to the same online privacy rules —whether it's Apple, Amazon, AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, Facebook, T-Mobile, Google or Twitter. Congress agreed.
  • This action makes way for a unified approach. The Federal Trade Commission has long been the cop on the beat protecting consumers' online privacy. This includes bringing more than 150 privacy and data security enforcement actions against not only ISPs but other major players in online search, content and e-commerce. Two years ago, the FCC stripped the FTC of its jurisdiction over broadband providers and began down this bifurcated path. Fortunately, in advance of Congress' vote, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and FTC Chair Maureen Ohlhausen rejected this approach and jointly expressed their support for "a comprehensive and consistent framework."

Congress did not vote down consumer privacy protections. It simply rejected an attempt to create a disjointed, separate and unequal regulatory regime. Lawmakers were right to take this stand for better public policy, and consumers are better off for it.

Jonathan Spalter is President and CEO of USTelecom.

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