Angering the advertising industry and likely triggering litigation, the Federal Communications Commission voted to move forward with privacy regulations for broadband providers.
“The FCC’s new sweeping privacy rules decision is unprecedented, misguided, counterproductive, and potentially extremely harmful,” the Association of National Advertisers said in a statement about the vote. “ANA is committed to seeing these rules undone, either by court challenges or action on Capitol Hill to reverse this extreme overreach by the agency.”
Other industry groups agreed. “The FCC’s decision is bad for consumers and bad for the U.S. economy,” the Direct Marketing Association said in a statement. “FCC’s action ignores what’s working and working well, and supplants it with a burdensome system that will stifle innovation and make it harder to deliver advertising messages that are relevant and useful to consumers.” ISPs have also vowed to take action against the new rules.
The rules—passed in a 3-2 vote by the Commission—require ISPs 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.
Industry members argued that the new regulations will also cause confusion because the FCC’s broad interpretation of sensitive data is at odds with existing standards. “By rejecting the industry’s accepted definition of sensitive information, the FCC chose patchwork and inconsistent standards over common sense,” Digital Advertising Alliance executive director Lou Mastria said. “General web browsing or application use information is clearly not as sensitive as financial or health information, yet this rule treats them the same.”
Privacy advocates praised the vote, as did Federal Trade Commission Chair Edith Ramirez. “I am pleased that the Federal Communications Commission has adopted rules that will protect the privacy of millions of broadband users,” she said in a statement. “The rules will provide robust privacy protections, including protecting sensitive information such as consumers’ social security numbers, precise geolocation data, and content of communications, and requiring reasonable data security practices. We look forward to continuing to work with the FCC to protect the privacy of American consumers.”
To read the full text of the FCC’s new rules, click here.
Why it matters: The regulations look to be headed to court, with ISPs and the ad industry ready to challenge the rules and the FCC standing firm. “There is a basic truth: It is the consumer’s information,” Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said. “It is not the information of the network the consumer hires to deliver that information. The consumer has the right to make a decision about how her or his information is used.”