Posted by: Bob Quinn on March 9, 2016 at 1:51 pm
Last week, the five associations representing virtually all wireline and (non-WISP) mobile ISPs submitted a joint proposal to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on how to address the implications of applying Section 222 to broadband Internet access in the wake of the FCC’s ill-advised 2015 Title II Order. As the filing explains, ISPs do not currently live in a “regulatory-free zone” when it comes to privacy, nor are we asking to live in one in the future. Prior to the FCC’s Order, wireline and mobile ISPs provided service in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) privacy regime (which prohibits deceptive and unfair trade practices). That regime also governed – and will continue to govern – the privacy practices of search providers, OS providers, browsers, apps, email providers and other tech companies who operate in the Internet ecosystem whether they collect and use customer data to provide services or to monetize that customer data through advertising.
The FTC privacy regime presented a uniform approach to privacy that focused on customer transparency, disclosure and customer choice. In fact, after the EU courts vacated the safe harbor provisions that had been in place governing data transfers between the U.S. and Europe, the U.S. Government went to great lengths to highlight to their EU counterparts that privacy enforcement by the FTC was equal to or stronger than privacy enforcement in Europe. As privacy oversight for ISPs transfers from the FTC to the FCC as a direct result of the Title II Order, AT&T has and will continue to advocate for a framework that is based on the FTC approach.
Some groups, however, have argued that in fact the FCC needs to go much further than the current FTC framework in its treatment of ISPs. To get there, those groups have characterized ISPs as “gatekeepers,” asserted that ISPs (as opposed to companies like Google) are the real leaders of targeted advertising and, finally, argued that the Federal Trade Commission is, in essence, incompetent at policing privacy given the tools they have available. With all due respect to those groups, their arguments are just not borne out by the facts.