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FCC passes rules to protect online privacy

Published November 1, 2016

Last Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission made a landmark decision in favor of consumers’ right to privacy online. The ruling limits how internet providers use and sell customer data and asserts that the data belongs to the customers to control.

The Washington Post reported: “The FCC just passed sweeping new rules to protect your online privacy.” Here’s a breakdown of the ruling from our friends at the Citizens Utility Board of Illinois.

What are the new rules?

They require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) — such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon — to obtain customer consent before using or sharing personal information with third parties, including marketing firms. The Washington Post reports that personal information includes a customer’s app usage, websites visited, mobile phone location, health and financial info, Social Security numbers, and the content of emails. ISPs would be allowed to use and share what the FCC calls “non-sensitive information,” such as email addresses, unless a customer opts out.

What’s good about the new rules?

“Thanks to the rules passed by the Commission today, consumers now have more control over how their information is used online than ever before,” says consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge.

What are some concerns?

Consumer advocates wanted to see tougher protections. The new rules do not protect all information. For example, The New York Times reported that the new rules only apply to the broadband businesses of AT&T. So data from AT&T’s wireless and broadband customers would be subjected to the new rules, but not data about AT&T’s DirecTV users. The new rules also do not cover internet-based companies such as Google and Facebook, which can also use personal info for marketing.

What’s next?

The broadband industry could challenge the new rules in court. Also, the FCC faces another challenge. As Public Knowledge said: “Consumer protection rules are only as strong as their ability to be enforced, so it is imperative that the Commission follow these strong rules with strict enforcement.” 

Author: Annie Levenson-Falk

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