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Advertisers Offer Broadband Privacy Alternative

With the FCC preparing to vote Oct. 27 on a proposal that could for the first time sweep web browsing and app use histories into an opt-in regime, disallowing the sharing of that info by ISPs unless consumers give affirmative permission, critics are pulling out the stops to stop it.

The FCC released its agenda for the Oct. 27 meeting Thursday and broadband privacy was still teed up.

Advertising associations, which see the new regime as a definite damper on the online ads that underwrite all that free web content, offered up a proposal Thursday, which was essentially that the FCC not make web browsing or app history sensitive information subject to opt-in requirements, except when it involves information otherwise classified as sensitive.

The proposal would require opt-in for traditional (under the Federal Trade Commission regulatory regime that used to apply to broadband categories) sensitive information, geolocation, children’s information, health information (e.g., pharmaceutical prescriptions or medical), financial information, Social Security numbers, and the content of communications (emails, texts, etc).

It would also require opt in for the use or sharing of web or app histories that contained such sensitive information, except for "operations and systems management," a category that is also the FCC's general carveout from the opt-in regime and is treated as the implied consent of signing up for the service.

Making that pitch were the American Association of Advertising Agencies, American Advertising Federation, Association of National Advertisers, DMA, Interactive Advertising Bureau, and the Network Advertising Initiative, representing billions of dollars in ad buys.

“The success of the digital economy is not an accident, rather, it is the product of a proven policy framework based on notice and choice enforced by self-regulation that has done an excellent job protecting consumers’ privacy choices while allowing marketers to develop innovative ways to make advertising messages more useful and relevant to consumers,” said Emmett O’Keefe, DMA senior VP of advocacy.  “We are concerned that the current FCC proposal would hurt consumers and negatively affect future innovation by unnecessarily restricting the use of web browsing and application data.  Our alternative proposal is similar to the successfully implemented program from the Digital Advertising Alliance, which provides effective transparency and choice to consumers, while preserving the ability to use non-sensitive web browsing history and application use history information in advertising and marketing.”