Advertisers Can't Support Blackburn's Broadband Privacy Bill

The Association of National Advertisers is no fan of the BROWSER Act, sponsored by House Communications Subcommittee chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.).

Blackburn's bill would preserve the FCC's opt-in regime for sensitive information and defining web browsing as sensitive information. That is despite the fact that Blackburn spearheaded the effort to nullify the FCC rules, at least in part because of those provisions being applied to ISPs and not others in the internet "ecosystem."

But the difference is the bill would apply those both to ISPs and edge providers like Google, Facebook and Amazon, who are dominant in the online ad market that uses browsing information to target those ads. 

ANA says the Blackburn bill repeats the "fatal mistake" of overbroad classification of sensitive information (it does not say to "web browsing" but that and geolocation are two of the sore spots) and what it calls a "vague and confusing" opt-in regime that would "bombard consumers with annoying consent notices." 

"Chairman Blackburn’s bill treats a vast range of ISP browser and app data and similar data collected by edge providers as highly sensitive, requiring opt-in consent by consumers for its collection and use," ANA blogged. "In our view, this goes way too far. Substantial amounts of browser and app use data deals with highly innocuous information such as searches for sports scores, weather reports and a multitude of other innocuous every day activities. ANA believes that treating too many categories and issues as highly sensitive will undermine the ability of consumers to focus on what is truly significant regarding their privacy interests." 

If FCC chairman Ajit Pai succeeds in rolling back classification of ISPs as Title II common carriers, the Federal Trade Commission will again have enforcement authority over both edge providers and ISPs, but Blackburn's bill could beat it to the punch, designating the FTC as the sole enforcer of online privacy. 

It is unclear how much traction the BROWSER bill will get given the opposition by advertisers and edge providers, but ANA signaled it was ready to work with Blackburn, whose effort to nullify the FCC rules the ad group supported. 

"We agree with her that the FTC should have regulatory primacy in the privacy arena for both ISPs and edge providers," ANA said. "We agree that there should be federal preemption in regard to privacy regulation. We will be reaching out to the Chairman and her staff to express our concerns about the definition of 'sensitive user information' in her bill and in order to assist in trying to find a better and more balanced approach to this critical issue."

(Photo via Gage Skidmores Flickr. Image taken on May 25, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 9x16 aspect ratio.)

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.