FCC Proposes Privacy Rules That Would Greatly Limit How ISPs Share Your Data

During his tenure as FCC Chairman, Tom Wheeler has taken on the telecom industry with net neutrality, and more recently, is looking to upend the cable box market by forcing cable and satellite providers to open their services to third-party hardware manufacturers. Now, Wheeler is turning his attention to another hot topic in the tech sphere these days — privacy.

Wheeler penned a blog post this afternoon that outlines the FCC’s proposal for new privacy regulations that would require your Internet Service Provider (ISP) — be it a home-based service like Comcast or Time Warner Cable, or a wireless carrier like AT&T or T-Mobile — to gain your permission before sharing your private data and browsing habits with third-parties.

tom wheeler
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler

“Your ISP handles all of your network traffic. That means it has a broad view of all of your unencrypted online activity -- when you are online, the websites you visit, and the apps you use,” explains Wheeler. “If you have a mobile device, your provider can track your physical location throughout the day in real time. Even when data is encrypted, your broadband provider can piece together significant amounts of information about you.”

The FCC wants customers to take control of their own personal data and choose who gets access to it. In Wheeler’s eyes, it shouldn’t be up to the ISPs to determine what data it can siphon from customers and who it share that information with — that power should reside solely with customers (with some caveats of course).

Under the FCC’s proposal, ISPs would be able to use your information to market its services to you. ISPs would also be able to share your data with affiliates advertising “other communications-related services,” however, you would have the option to opt-out should you not agree with handing over such data.

“All other uses and sharing of your personal data would require your affirmative ‘opt-in’ consent,” says Wheeler. “Consumers deserve to have safeguards in place to ensure that information necessary to run the network is used only for that purpose unless the owner of that information -- the consumer -- agrees otherwise.”

The FCC will vote this proposal on March 31st, and of course the public will have their chance to express their thoughts on the issues at hand. However, we doubt that many will put up a fuss about protecting their online persona. ISPs on the other hand might put up a fight as they scramble to avoid any more looming oversight from the FCC.

Tags:  Privacy, FCC, Tom Wheeler