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Ad Agencies Diss FCC Privacy Pivot

WASHINGTON — Companies and agencies representing billions of dollars in advertising have joined Internet-service providers representing billions in broadband investment to argue that changes to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler’s broadband privacy proposal are not the advertised pivot toward the Federal Trade Commission’s less-restrictive approach.

ISPs were quick to brand the proposal as opt-in dressed up as data sensitivity.

The Association of National Advertisers initially sounded guardedly optimistic at what the Federal Communications Commission had billed as a definite move toward the FTC’s approach to base the protection of user broadband data — opt-in vs. opt-out — on the information’s sensitivity.

But after a weekend to look it over, the ANA adjusted its statement, and other ad-industry associations, joined by the ANA, fired off a letter to the FCC making it clear they did not see it as the sort of regulatory harmonization they had called for.

The FTC had suggested a “sensitivity” approach after the FCC deeded itself broadband privacy authority when it reclassified ISPs as common carriers, leaving the FTC to continue to regulate edge providers.

Advertisers and agencies were not fans of Wheeler’s initial proposal to make most third-party use of information opt-in, but they called the change a last-minute shift that would still “significantly harm” online commerce.

The main nonstarters for advertisers and agencies, as they are for ISPs, is including Web browsing history and app use as sensitive types of data that require opt-in.

“There is no record of consumer harm to justify treating Web viewing and application use history as sensitive or for it to be subject to opt-in,” they said.

Neither Google, Yahoo nor any other edge provider is subject to an opt-in driven sharing regime for websites visited or apps used under the FTC’s “notice and choice” regime. In fact, the advertisers said, the FTC has endorsed an opt-out regime for Web-browsing data.

The advertising groups have taken a page from the opponents of Wheeler’s plan to rewrite set-top box rules, asking the FCC to put out the new privacy proposal for comment before voting on it.

“We urge the commission to reconsider this proposal or, at a minimum, to take the time to review it through the regular notice and comment process,” they said.

Wheeler has said he wants to vote the item for Oct. 27, but he also scheduled the set-top vote for the September public meeting before pulling it at the last minute.

Joining the ANA on the letter were the Direct Marketing Association; the American Advertising Federation; the American Association of Advertising Agencies (the 4As); the Interactive Advertising Bureau; and the Network Advertising Initiative, which together represent 5,000 companies.