Broadband providers in the US could be prohibited from selling customer data without prior consumer consent if new proposals by the Federal Communications Commission become law.
Even as the country grapples with the issue of security vs privacy in the Apple/FBI stand-off, the FCC has signaled that it thinks Government regulation has a greater role to play in personal privacy.
Crucially, it says the increase in online activity means now is the right time to bring Internet Service Providers (ISPs), who know huge amounts about users’ lives, habits and financial and medical details through online use, into line with phone companies, who are limited to what they can repurpose and resell from what they glean about user behaviour.
In a blog post titled It’s Your Data: Empowering Consumers to Protect Online Privacy, chairman Tom Wheeler said it’s common knowledge that social media platforms and websites we visit collect personal information and sell it for advertising purposes, but that we can choose to leave or switch at will.
He said: “Seldom, however, do we stop to realize that our Internet Service Provider (ISP) is also collecting information about us. What’s more, we can choose not to visit a website or sign up for a social network, or choose to drop one and switch to another. Broadband service is different. Once you subscribe to an Internet service provider — for your home or for your smartphone — you have little flexibility to change your mind or avoid that network.
“Think about it. Your ISP handles all of your network traffic. That means it has a broad view of all of your unencrypted online activity — when you are online, the websites you visit, and the apps you use. If you have a mobile device, your provider can track your physical location throughout the day in real time.
“Even when data is encrypted, your broadband provider can piece together significant amounts of information about you — including private information such as a chronic medical condition or financial problems — based on your online activity.”
Under his proposals, ISPs would still be allowed to use customer data to provide a full broadband service, and for related marketing and billing purposes, including with their affiliates, unless users opt out. But all other uses and sharing of personal data would require specific opt in consent.
He stated: “I’m proposing to my colleagues that we empower consumers to ensure they have control over how their information is used by their Internet Service Provider. Every broadband consumer should have the right to know what information is being collected and how it is used. Every broadband consumer should have the right to choose how their information bits should be used and shared. And every consumer should be confident that their information is being securely protected.
“Simply by using the Internet, you have no choice but to share large amounts of personal information with your broadband provider. You have a right to know what information is being collected about you and how that information is being used. That’s why establishing baseline privacy standards for ISPs is a common sense idea whose time has come. The bottom line is that it’s your data. How it’s used and shared should be your choice.”
Here at digi.me, we couldn’t agree more – in fact our entire business model and vision is built around just that, so we’re delighted to hear as big and influential body as the FCC singing to the same tune. The personal data revolution is, indeed, a common sense idea whose time has come. And that will benefit each and every one of us, including the businesses who want our data.