FCC Derails ISP Customer Data Gravy Train, Requires Explicit Consent For Sharing Sensitive Information

What kind of information do ISP’s collect from their customers and what do they do with that information? The Federal Communications Commission just passed a new rule to protect online user’s privacy and regulate how and when ISPs can share information with third parties.

The FCC rule was passed this morning with a 3-2 vote. It requires ISPs, or internet providers, to obtain a customer’s explicit consent before sharing certain information with third parties. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler remarked, “It's the consumers' information. How it is used should be the consumers' choice. Not the choice of some corporate algorithm.”


What does the new law entail? First, ISPs will need to let consumers know what information is being gathered and how it uses the data. Second, users will need to “opt-in” in order to let ISP’s share their information. The internet provider cannot “cut-off” the customer if they refuse to share their information. Health data, financial information, Social Security numbers, and the content of emails and other digital messages are included in the law.

This law is a big step for the FCC toward greater user privacy, however, it is not comprehensive. The new rule does not eliminate “pay-for-privacy” deals or monitor of the internet provider itself uses the data. A company like Verizon or AT&T could use a customer’s information to market their own products.

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Internet providers are naturally displeased by the law. The new rule decreases their number of marketing opportunities. Earlier this month, USTelecom, which represents the country’s top ISP’s, stated:

We are pleased that the FCC has recognized the importance of providing consumers with a common expectation of privacy without regard to service or platform, and that the sensitive nature of the information being shared should be the determining factor in what is afforded increased protection. We are concerned, however, that the commission, which has no expertise with regard to determining the content of speech, is now attempting to redefine what consumers may regard as sensitive.

The new FCC rules will likely go into effect early in 2017.