This week the U.S. Senate voted to repeal FCC rules that would have required Internet Service Providers to get explicit permission from customers before they could collect and sell information on customers’ Internet and Web use.
The vote removes a significant roadblock for wired and mobile broadband providers that want to boost profits by selling user data to advertisers, marketers, and data aggregation services. Industry associations for communications companies and advertisers supported the repeal.
For instance, here’s a delightful bit of doublespeak from the CTIA, a trade organization for U.S. wireless providers:
“CTIA and the wireless industry applaud Senator Flake and the 24 resolution cosponsors for their leadership in seeking a commonsense and harmonized approach to protecting Americans’ privacy.” (Emphasis mine)
I suppose you could say that having no privacy protections for consumers is indeed a “harmonized approach.”
In fact, the elimination of regulatory confusion was one of the justifications that senators made for repealing the privacy protections. Consumers have little expectation of privacy when using individual Web sites, such as social media sites or search engines, so why should it be any different with ISPs?
That’s one way to look at it. I think a better way is to start with privacy protections at the provider level, and then see what we can do with Web sites. Certainly that’s better than having no protection at all.
Pimp Your Customer
There are other arguments against a “harmonized approach” of no privacy protection.
For one, ISPs have a history of dirty tricks when it comes to selling out or spying on their customers for profit.
For another, many online services like search or social media are free. Users trade some privacy in exchange for a service. But we already pay ISPs for connectivity. Why should the ISPs be allowed to double-dip, especially when a lack of competition limits consumer choice?
This lack of competition allows monopolistic or duopolistic abuse of customers. Without government regulation, ISPs can engage in extractive and exploitative practices against their customers with little fear of repercussion because where else are they going to go?
The final hurdle for ISPs is an upcoming vote in the House of Representatives. If you’d prefer the opt-in framework that the original rules required, call your representative and let him or her know.