March 31, 2016
The FCC is getting tough on consumer privacy -- sort of. At its meeting today, the agency adopted proposed rules that would prevent broadband service providers from using their customer's Internet activity data without getting their express consent.
That's great, right? I mean, why should ISPs be able to make money selling information their customers might want to keep private?
There is one small catch, however: Nothing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) did today will really protect anyone's privacy online, since none of these new rules apply to companies like Facebook or Google (Nasdaq: GOOG).
That didn't go unnoticed by anyone: United States Telecom Association (USTelecom) , the largest trade association of network operators, immediately issued a statement attributed to its President Walter McCormick, saying any new rules should be "consistent across the broadband economy." The current proposed rules will only create a "regulatory morass" while shortchanging consumers, it stated.
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Writing in Forbes, former FCC commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth went even farther, claiming the commission is actually giving consumers a false sense of security where their privacy is concerned.
"Aside from the fact that consumers typically use multiple devices and multiple networks, with no single broadband provider privy to the entirety of a customer’s data, broadband providers constitute only a sliver of the Internet," he said in an article you can read here. "Social networks, search engines, messaging services, and operating systems arguably have much deeper access into a consumer’s online activity and private information."
Not surprisingly, consumer groups hailed the new proposals as a righteous way of protecting consumer privacy online and keeping the big, bad ISPs from ripping off their customers.
I don't think the new rules are inherently horrible -- why shouldn't an ISP have to get customer permission to use information about their browsing habits? Consumers are paying for broadband service, whereas they use search engines and social media for free.
But I doubt consumers are going to notice any changes in their online privacy as a result of these new rules, so I have to ask: What's the point?
Furchtgott-Roth probably got it right: These new rules protect no one, and to the extent that anyone thinks their online activity will become more private as a result, they actually do more harm.
— Carol Wilson, Editor-at-Large, Light Reading
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