Dozens of consumer and privacy groups submitted a letter to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday, calling for an aggressive motion to protect broadband users from internet service providers’ unlawful collection of user data.
The groups claim that since the F.C.C.’s reclassification of broadband as a Title II common carrier service, the agency is able to offer stricter policing on how telcos collect and process user data.
Groups including the Consumer Federation of America, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the National Consumers League, and the World Privacy Forum, among many others, are calling on the F.C.C. to make good on its expanded powers to make rules for broadband providers that do a better job of protecting web users. The letter calls ISPs the internet’s “gatekeepers” and notes that as such, they should only be collecting data shared with them via affirmative consent, and should not be using the data for purposes “other than providing broadband internet access.”
Providers of broadband Internet access service, including fixed and mobile telephone, cable, and satellite television providers, have a unique role in the online ecosystem. Their position as Internet gatekeepers gives them a comprehensive view of consumer behavior and until now privacy protections for consumers using those services have been unclear. Nor is there any way for consumers to avoid data collection by the entities that provide Internet access service.
This new call to action is an interesting turn for privacy advocacy in the U.S., where most of the focus thus far has been on tech giants such as Google and Facebook. While ISPs haven’t been able to fly under the radar per se, they have enjoyed less attention than Silicon Valley big wigs in terms of adhering to ethical privacy practices. Now, however, privacy advocates are setting their sights on a battle with telcos, thanks notably to the reclassification of broadband.
Broadcasting & Cable quotes Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy:
[T]he FCC’s Network Neutrality rules set the stage for FCC to regulate how ISPs use consumer data via CPNI and related regs. Unlike the Federal Trade Commission, FCC can actually issue real regulations on privacy (the FTC can only do that for kids under the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act). So, if FCC acts, this could be a major change in the way the consumer data business is conducted, and have far-reaching impact.
Where a company like Facebook has access to a user’s data within its walls, an ISP has access to a user’s habits on Facebook, Netflix, Spotify, and any other web-connected service that he or she accesses. And until now, broadband providers’ access to a user’s complete store of internet activity has been a fact of life. Privacy advocates are clearly done letting that fact slide.