Should privacy on the internet come at a premium? FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler does not think so. Wheeler has been battling ISP’s in order to guarantee that all internet customers have an equal amount of privacy. He remarked, “I would hope that privacy doesn't become a luxury item”.
This comment is an obvious snub to both AT&T and Comcast who offer discounts to customers if they agree to let go of some of their privacy or charge a premium for extra privacy. AT&T charges customers $30 to $50 USD more per month if they want to opt out of "Internet Preferences”. This program tracks user’s browsing behavior on the internet. Comcast extends discounts to customers in exchange for various behaviorally-targeted ads.
Several weeks ago a number of lawmakers urged the FCC to ban the “pay-for-privacy” system. They argued that this pricing pyramid is particularly harmful to elderly customers who do not necessarily understand how ISP's work, and low-income customers who cannot afford to pay the privacy premium. Many members of Congress have argued that the actions of several ISP’s violates the fundamental rights of Americans to privacy.
Comcast and other companies have vehemently defended the “pay-for-privacy” system. They argued that its “prohibition would harm consumers by, among other things, depriving them of lower-priced offerings.” Comcast also insisted that the FCC does not have the right to regulate the system in the first place.
Eric Null, a policy lawyer at the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute, remarked, “Low-income consumers have less disposable income with which to pay for privacy-protective plans, and therefore are much more likely to give up their privacy in exchange for access to the Internet.” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler believes that ISP’s force customers to choose between privacy and Internet access and is working to eliminate “pay-for-privacy” altogether.