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U.S. Chamber of Commerce Opposes Proposed FCC Broadband Privacy Rules

U.S. Chamber of Commerce logo Some companies don't want consumers to have privacy when using high-speed Internet services. Just before the long Memorial Day holiday weekend, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCOC) submitted comments about the broadband privacy rules proposed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in April. Portions of the USCOC's comments to the FCC:

"... the Chamber opposes the proposed broadband privacy rule because it is unnecessary, exceeds statutory authority, furthers a regulatory digital divide between edge and telecommunications providers, and threatens innovation by stifling the already thriving Internet ecosystem... I. Current broadband provider privacy practices and the market do not justify the proposed rule... II. The Commission is engaging in a regulatory overreach with its proposed rule... III. The NPRM furthers a regulatory digital divide The proposed rule creates regulatory imbalance in which broadband service providers will be subject to highly restrictive and prescriptive “opt-in” privacy regulations while other content and edge providers — like Netflix — remain under the light-touch regulatory framework of the FTC... The Chamber strongly supports voluntary self-regulation as the appropriate mechanism for online data protection... IV. The proposed FCC privacy rule threatens innovation and the current digital ecosystem..."

What is the USCOC? It is a political lobbying organization representing businesses. According to the organization's website:

"The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business organization representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions. Our members range from mom-and-pop shops and local chambers to leading industry associations and large corporations. They all share one thing—they count on the Chamber to be their voice in Washington, D.C."

Let's unpack this a bit. In its comments to the FCC, the USCOC is arguing for the interests of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and not small mom-and-pop shops, and definitely not the interests of consumers. The USCOC's view is that opt-in privacy approaches is "highly restrictive" and a burden. Instead, they want to collect whatever consumer information ISPs desire and place the entire burden on consumers to opt-out of programs. Think about that for a moment. They believe it is burdensome to explain a program's privacy policy and display an "opt-in" (or "register" or "I accept these terms") button so that consumers stay in control of their personal information.

The USCOC's submission claims that the FCC's proposed rules unfairly places restrictions on ISPs compared to "edge providers' or companies that produce content and advertising networks:

"The proposed rule creates regulatory imbalance in which broadband service providers will be subject to highly-restrictive and prescriptive “opt-in” privacy regulations while other content and edge providers — like Netflix — remain under the light-touch regulatory framework of the FTC. The same customer data about Internet usage will be regulated by two very different agencies. Content and edge providers will continue to operate under FTC’s jurisdiction to regulate “unfair and deceptive” trade practices under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. 21 Under Section 5, in the case of unfair and deceptive trade practice violations, the FTC generally issues a cease and desist order that does not immediately impose penalties on alleged violators. This practice gives companies notice and a chance to clean up their act. Conversely, broadband providers under section 222 would not be entitled to a notice to correct mistakes and would be subject to the highly-prescriptive regulations imposed by the NPRM. The decision to regulate broadband providers under two different regulatory regimes is entirely arbitrary..."

Huh? Really? Internet access is not content. Content is content. Of course, the two should be treated differently. Internet access includes the connections for devices a consumer uses online: phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, smart televisions, smart thermometers, smart home-security systems, fitness bands, smart watches, connected refrigerators, and more. Consuming content from Netflix, or another provider, may involve a few, one, or none of these devices -- the choice of the consumer.

In its comments to the FCC, the USCOC also said:

The Commission has also failed to offer any evidence that edge and content providers are respecting consumers’ privacy more than broadband providers or that Internet service providers have any meaningful advantage over content and edge providers with respect to personal data."

MediaPost reported:

"Consumer advocacy groups disagree, pointing out that ISPs have access to all unencrypted traffic in their networks. While more sites now encrypt data than in the past, much remains unencrypted. Consider, a recent study by Upturn found that more than 85% of the top 50 sites in health, news and shopping don't fully support encryption. Upturn also noted in its report that ISPs can glean information about consumers even when they visit encrypted sites... Consumer advocacy groups also argue that broadband providers should be subject to tougher privacy rules because consumers have only limited options about which ISP to use, but many choices about which Web sites to visit."

Well said. I would add to this that the industry historically has repeatedly abused consumers' privacy. This blog has covered many of those abuses:

Historically, ISPs have sought increased revenues and viewed targeted (behavioral) advertising as the means. To do this, they partnered with several technology companies (some went out of business after class-action lawsuits) to spy on consumers without notice, without consent, and without providing opt-out  mechanisms. Consumers should control their privacy, not ISPs.

Now you know who if fighting for consumers' interests, and who is not.


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