Internet Providers Lose Right to Sell Your Privacy (But Facebook & Google Still Can)

“There is a basic truth: It is the consumer’s information. It is not the information of the network the consumer hires to deliver that information.” 

These were the words of Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the F.C.C., when it was announced that Federal regulators have approved new broadband privacy rules that require internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon to ask for customers’ permission before using or sharing much of their data. He went on to say that the information used “should be the consumers’ choice, not the choice of some corporate algorithm.”

Privacy groups were, of course, thrilled with the new rules, which move the United States closer to the stricter policies in European nations.  The industries that depend on online user data were not quite as happy, with the Association of National Advertisers labeling the regulations “unprecedented, misguided, counterproductive, and potentially extremely harmful.”

What does all of this really mean for consumers?

• A broadband provider has to ask a customer’s permission before it can tell an advertiser exactly where that customer is by tracking her phone and what interests she has gleaned from the websites she’s visited on it and the apps she’s used.

• Major broadband providers will have about one year to make the changes required by the new rules. After that, users will be notified of new privacy options through email or dialogue boxes on websites.

• The F.C.C. rules apply only to their broadband businesses.

• After the rules are in effect, broadband providers will immediately stop collecting sensitive data, including Social Security numbers and health data, unless a customer gives permission.

• For some less-private data, like names and addresses, there’s a more lenient approach. As with any online service, you should assume that broadband providers can use that information and you should “opt-out” of letting them do so.

• One “down side” to consider is that there is a chance that the removal of ads that allow for free and cheaper web services will result in those prices being passed on to consumers.

• Online ad giants, including Google, Facebook and other web companies, are not subject to the new regulations as the F.C.C. does not have jurisdiction over web companies. So Google does not have to explicitly ask people permission first to gather web-browsing habits, for example.

• AT&T, Verizon and Comcast will also still be able to gather consumers’ digital data, though not as easily as before. They will also still be able to purchase data from brokers.

Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) summed it up pretty clearly:  “Just as telephone companies are not allowed to listen in to our calls or sell information about who we talk to, our internet providers shouldn’t be allowed to monitor our internet usage for profit.”

John Sileo is an an award-winning author and keynote speaker on identity theft, internet privacy, fraud training & technology defense. John specializes in making security entertaining, so that it works. John is CEO of The Sileo Group, whose clients include the Pentagon, Visa, Homeland Security & Pfizer. John’s body of work includes appearances on 60 Minutes, Rachael Ray, Anderson Cooper & Fox Business. Contact him directly on 800.258.8076.