Reg­u­la­tors move to boost on­line pri­vacy

Ser­vice providers must get users’ OK on sen­si­tive data

Baltimore Sun - - ELECTION 2016 - By Jim Puzzanghera

WASH­ING­TON — Fed­eral reg­u­la­tors on Thurs­day ap­proved tough new rules re­quir­ing high-speed in­ter­net ser­vice providers to get cus­tomer per­mis­sion be­fore us­ing or shar­ing sen­si­tive per­sonal data, such as web brows­ing or app us­age his­tory and the geo­graphic trail of mo­bile de­vices.

Ca­ble and wire­less com­pa­nies that of­fer broad­band ser­vice would not have to first get a cus­tomer’s ap­proval be­fore us­ing or shar­ing any non-sen­si­tive data, such as a per­son’s name, ad­dress and type of data plan. Con­sumers would have to opt out of the shar­ing of that in­for­ma­tion.

But such in­for­ma­tion is lim­ited — most cus­tomer data will be con­sid­ered sen­si­tive — and in­ter­net ser­vice The pri­vacy reg­u­la­tions ap­proved by the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion will be phased in over two years. providers have not had to get per­mis­sion to use or share that data. The pri­vacy reg­u­la­tions ap­proved by the Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion on a par­ti­san 3-2 vote will be phased in over the next two years.

Con­sumer ad­vo­cates ap­plauded the agency’s ac­tion.

“As the in­ter­net has be- come ubiq­ui­tous, broad­band providers have gained a unique, all-en­com­pass­ing win­dow into our daily l i ves,” said Jonathan Sch­wantes, se­nior tele­com pol­icy coun­sel for Con­sumers Union. “We think th­ese new rules are strong, fair and nec­es­sary as we live more and more of our lives on­line.”

But the rules were strongly op­posed by ca­ble and wire­less com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing AT&T, which wants to ex­pand its me­dia em­pire — and its trove of con­sumer data — with the pro­posed pur­chase of Time Warner.

The broad­band providers com­plained that they now will face tougher re­stric­tions on the shar­ing of valu­able cus­tomer data than Google, Face­book and other in­ter­net com­pa­nies.

The FCC’s def­i­ni­tion of sen­si­tive data also in­cludes the con­tent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers and in­for­ma­tion about fi­nan­cial ac­tiv­ity, health or chil­dren.

FCC Chair­man Tom Wheeler, a Demo­crat who pro­posed the rules, said broad­band sub­scribers “will fi­nally be in the driver’s seat” in de­cid­ing how their sen­si­tive per­sonal in­for­ma­tion is used.

“It is the con­sumers’ in­for­ma­tion. It is not the in­for­ma­tion of the net­work the con­sumer hires to de­liver t hat i nfor­ma­tion,” Wheeler said. “The con­sumer has the right to make a de­ci­sion about how her or his in­for­ma­tion is used.”

Wheeler and the two other Democrats who make up the com­mis­sion’s ma­jor­ity, Mignon Cly­burn and Jes­sica Rosen­wor­cel, said con­sumers have fewer choices about how they ac­cess the in­ter­net — ei­ther from their home or via mo­bile de­vices — and the agency was re­quired to en­act new rules for broad­band providers un­der the ex­panded au­thor­ity over the com­pa­nies gained un­der net neu­tral­ity rules adopted last year.

The FCC’s rules don’t ap­ply to in­di­vid­ual web­sites or so­cial net­works, which are over­seen by the Fed­eral Trade Com­mis­sion.

The rules ap­proved Thurs­day were soft­ened from a pro­posal made by Wheeler in March that would have re­quired cus­tomers to opt in be­fore any of their per­sonal in­for­ma­tion could be shared by their in­ter­net ser­vice provider.

After com­plaints from the broad­band in­dus­try, Wheeler pro­posed dis­tin­guish­ing be­tween types of in­for­ma­tion, as the FTC does. But the com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­mis­sion ex­panded on the FTC’s def­i­ni­tion of sen­si­tive data, in­clud­ing inf or­ma­tion about web brows­ing and app us­age.

That was a key rea­son why the FCC’s two Repub­li­cans, Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly, said they voted against the new rules. They said broad­band providers should not face tougher pri­vacy re­stric­tions than in­ter­net giants such as Google and Face­book.

“Con­sumers should not have to be net­work en­gi­neers to un­der­stand who’s col­lect­ing their data,” Pai said, call­ing the FCC’s ac­tions “cor­po­rate fa­voritism.”

MANU FER­NAN­DEZ/AP 2014

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