Advertisers are pushing the Federal Communications Commission to repeal the agency’s privacy rule now that its leadership has changed.
Last November, in a 3-2 vote along party lines, the FCC passed a new privacy rule that requires Internet service providers to obtain opt-in consent before sensitive data (defined to include browsing and app usage history) can be collected and used for ad targeting purposes. Members of the industry immediately spoke out against the rule, arguing that it would have a negative impact on the economy, stifle innovation, make it harder to deliver relevant and useful advertising messages, and cause confusion because the FCC’s broad interpretation of sensitive data is at odds with existing standards.
After the election, a coalition of ad industry groups filed a petition formally requesting that the agency reconsider its order. Following the announcement that Ajit Pai—who voted against the new rule and has repeatedly spoken out against it—would take the lead position at the FCC, the industry joined with other groups to ask that the rule be tossed entirely.
“Consumers have embraced the dynamism of today’s internet, and have come to expect a seamless and consistent online experience for the apps on which they rely, the Web-based sites and services they use, and the devices that deliver those offerings which make our lives easier and more efficient,” the Association of National Advertisers, American Association of Advertising Agencies, American Advertising Federation, Data & Marketing Association, Interactive Advertising Bureau, and Network Advertising Initiative wrote. “Unfortunately, in adopting new broadband privacy rules late last year, the [FCC] took action that jeopardizes the vibrancy and success of the internet and the innovations the internet has and should continue to offer.”
The “onerous and unnecessary” rules “establish a very harmful precedent for the entire internet ecosystem,” that substantially deviates from the Federal Trade Commission’s existing privacy regime, according to the letter. Multiple organizations reflecting members of the cable industry as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce joined the missive.
“Amongst other flaws, the FCC [o]rder would create confusion and interfere with the ability of consumers to receive customized services and capabilities they enjoy and be informed of new products and discount offers,” the groups wrote. “Further, the [o]rder would also result in consumers being bombarded with trivial data breach notifications. The FCC [o]rder greatly expands the category of information for which a breach notification would be necessary, even if the consumer is not harmed. The FCC disregards the FTC’s warning about notice fatigue in that consumers who receive too many notices may ignore the important ones.”
While the groups supported the goal of ensuring online privacy and data security protections for consumers, any requirements should “comport with consumer expectations and long-standing privacy policies,” they told the leaders of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. But the “FCC’s [o]rder would significantly harm consumers as well as our nation’s digital economy.”
To read the letter requesting repeal of the FCC privacy rule, click here.
Why it matters: Given the new leadership at the FCC as well as the current administration’s willingness to overturn prior decisions, the letter may not be a shot in the dark for the ad industry. Proponents of the rule are not going down without a fight, however, with advocacy groups such as the ACLU and the Center for Digital Democracy authoring their own letter to lawmakers. “The cable, telecom, wireless, and advertising lobbies’ request … is just another industry attempt to overturn rules that empower users and give them a say in how their private information may be used,” the groups wrote. Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) also voiced his support of the rules in a letter to Pai, urging him to “protect freedom of speech by maintaining and enforcing” the order.