October 28, 2016
On October 27, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved new regulations that will prevent broadband companies such as AT&T and Comcast from collecting and sharing information gathered about individuals online. This decision, which is considered a landmark win for consumers and privacy groups, was strongly opposed by telecommunication companies and advertising industry groups.
By a 3-2 vote, the FCC now requires broadband providers to obtain permission from consumers to gather and give out data on their web browsing activities, app use, location, and financial information. Previously, providers could gather such data unless an individual opted out of online collection. This is the first time the FCC has passed such online protections. Although broadband providers are subject to these regulations, sites such as Google and Facebook are not, as the FCC does not have jurisdiction over web companies.
Privacy groups praise these new rules for protecting citizens’ online privacy. Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, was quoted in the New York Times as saying: “for the first time, the public will be guaranteed that when they use broadband to connect to the internet, whether on a mobile device or personal computer, they will have the ability to decide whether and how much of their information can be gathered.”
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, however, is not as enthusiastic about the recent ruling. After voting against the regulation, he was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying: “If the FCC truly believes that these new rules are necessary to protect consumer privacy, then the government now must move forward to ensure uniform regulations of all companies in the internet ecosystem at the new baseline the FCC has set.” Fellow FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly, at a press conference after he voted against the regulation, stated: "I think there's going to be extensive legal challenges coming.”
Although these new regulations are limited to broadband companies, this ruling might be a sign of what’s to come for the marketing and digital advertising industry. This ruling could mark a regulatory shift toward favoring consumers’ online privacy rights, which could adversely affect a host of online industries, not just broadband providers.
This article is intended to provide general information and, therefore, should not be treated as legal advice. If you have questions about a specific legal issue, you should seek the advice of a qualified attorney.
Author: Ryan Lorch
Editor: Rudy E. Verner