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Public Knowledge Stance on Privacy Misguided


The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) privacy proceeding has prompted hundreds of comments complaining about the commission’s “overly broad” proposal. Taking a different stance is a group led by Public Knowledge (PK), which wants stricter privacy regulation aimed only at internet service providers (ISPs). This approach is misguided, USTelecom said in reply comments in the proceeding. It wrongly assumes broadband providers are gatekeepers to information about how consumers use the Internet and, contends – without evidence – that forcing an opt-in privacy regime will benefit consumers.

PK opposes harmonizing the Federal Trade Commission’s privacy regulations with the approach the FCC would take, basely solely upon the unproven premise that “consumers should fear their ISPs,” USTelecom said. “The FCC has not established a record of consumer harm that necessitates new regulation in this area,” said the Association of National Advertisers, responding to the FCC proceeding. Vast harms could result from new FCC restrictions on privacy practices affecting jobs and the economic benefits from the data-driven market economy, ANA said.

The theory that ISPs have comprehensive and unique access to users’ online activity acquired from the task of connecting consumers to the Internet is outdated, USTelecom said. Technological developments have placed substantial limits on ISPs’ visibility into consumer data and online activities. Meanwhile, other Internet companies often have access to far more comprehensive information because they collect consumer data in multiple venues: search queries, operating systems, browsers, social networks, online commerce sites, etc.

USTelecom also took issue with PK’s assertion that consumers are better served by a regime that forces them to make decisions about opting-in for sharing even their least sensitive information. “It seems that PK is simply advocating to remove all advertising on the internet such that the broadband industry and the conveniences it provides to consumers would be sent back into the dark ages,” USTelecom said.

A broad opt-in consent mechanism is not needed to give consumers control over their personal information. Furthermore, it would hamper an ISP’s ability to compete with the edge providers that dominate online advertising, and impose substantial costs on ISPs that ultimately would trickle down to consumers.

The PK effort includes The Benton Foundation, Consumer Action, Consumer Federation of America and National Consumers League.

For more information, read USTelecom’s comments.

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