The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed a new policy that puts stronger restrictions on what Internet service providers such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T can do with customer data. The goal of the proposal is to ensure that customers have the information they need to make informed decisions about how and whether their data is used and distributed by their internet providers.
How Things Are Now
Currently your internet providers handle all of your online traffic. They have a clear view of all unencrypted online activity. They easily keep track of what websites you visit, how often you visit, how long you are on a site, your location, and more. This differs from relationships you have with websites and apps, where you can instantly cut contact by going to a different site. It’s nearly impossible for a consumer to avoid the network they have subscribed to. Even when data is encrypted, service providers have enough access to analyze online activity to figure out private information such as financial hardships and medical conditions.
These new regulations would set service providers apart from data collecting social media sites like Facebook or Google. Sites like those are only regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has a limited amount of authority to regulate and control how private information is handled. The new policy would allow the FCC to have legal authority over service providers and impose strict regulations on communication between customers and providers.
The proposal revolves around three principles: choice, transparency, and security. First, a consumer should have the right to make a meaningful and informed decision over what data their provider uses and what the provider is able to do with that data. Second, consumers should know how the data is being used, so providers would need to supply their privacy practices in a way that any customer would be able to understand. Third, it would be the responsibility of providers to protect the data of its customers across their networks.
Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FTC, is looking out for customers. With the increase in conglomeration of service providers and other websites, the risk of data abuses are at an all-time high. Currently, a provider like Google Fiber could use the data it receives and disclose it to other Google products, like Gmail or Google Maps. Verizon Fios has the ability to give your search history to its wireless service in order to target people for mobile phone plans. The new regulations would prevent such disclosures from occuring without the consent of a subscriber.
Service providers have reacted strongly to the proposal. They claim that sites like Facebook collect much more personal data than they do and it would be unfair to treat them differently. Providers such as AT&T claim that websites like Facebook and Google, which use controversial tactics like behavioral advertising, should be held to the same standard they are.
However, a customer has control over what they provide to social media websites and Google. Many customers only have one choice of service provider, and because a customer’s web access often comes solely through its provider, heightened security and transparency are needed.
Regulations like these new FCC proposals could start to turn the tides on the amount of control a customer has on the Internet. In an increasingly web-based world, being a properly informed consumer is becoming more and more vital.
For more information about how your data is collected and used, contact Revision Legal’s team of experienced internet attorneys through the form on this page or call 855-473-8474.
Image courtesy of Flickr user: Yuri Samoilov