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FCC Proposes Privacy Regulations to Stop ISPs from Selling Customer Data

On Thursday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released a proposal to restrict the amount of data that Internet Service Providers (ISPs), such as Comcast or Verizon, can share or sell to third parties without prior consent from consumers.

There are currently no data regulations in force that apply to ISPs in the United States. According to a Pew Research poll, 91% of Americans feel as if they have lost control over how their data is used and processed by companies. In a statement released on their website, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler argued that “in today’s digital world, consumers deserve to be able to make informed choices about their privacy… online.”

“FCC regulations limit how your phone company can repurpose and resell what it learns about your phone activity without your consent. Similar rules don’t exist for broadband service today,” Wheeler continued. “That’s a gap that must be closed – consumers who use the network of the 21st century deserve similar protections.”

Under the proposal, ISPs must get permission from consumers before broadband providers can use or share the vast majority of their data, such as GPS locations, email content, financial information, and browser history.

Such data is currently free to access, and could net ISPs a huge profit by selling it to advertisers. Currently, Verizon is estimated to spend around $4.8 billion on purchasing Yahoo after acquiring AOL last year for $4.4 billion in order to form an advertising business.

Initially proposed in March, the FCC have toned down the strength of the regulation. Originally, “non-sensitive” data such as names and addresses would also need prior approval to be passed on, but after complaints from ISPs, this is no longer required. Agency officials have said that the “non-sensitive” data privileges can still be revoked by the customer.

This backtrack came after ISPs claimed that such a move would leave them in an unfair position when compared to websites such as Google and Facebook. Mobile phone apps and websites would not have to abide by the proposal, as they come under the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission, not the FCC. However, Wheeler noted that websites owned by the broadband providers would also be exempt.

Overall, the plan has had positive feedback from pro-privacy pressure groups. Gaurav Laroia of Free Press said in a statement that the proposal was a good defense “against internet service providers’ unpermitted use of personal information.”

A planned vote on the regulations will take place on October 27th at the monthly meeting of the five FCC commissioners. It is still possible for changes to be made to the proposal.

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