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Editorial: Privacy By Design

We think the FCC needs to recalibrate its approach to broadband customer privacy. And we suggest the commission take a good look at a fellow agency with plenty of experience in that area: the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC takes a “privacy by design” approach based on the sensitivity of the data involved. That approach was backed in comments by both the former Democratic chairman of the FTC, Jon Leibowitz, and the current Republican FTC commissioner, Maureen Ohlhausen.

In fact, all the members of the FTC voted to approve staff comments that suggested the FCC was overprotecting some information, and underprotecting other info.

We are on the same page as the FTC when it comes to personally identifiable information. Social Security numbers, health and financial information, information about kids, geolocation information— this should only be shared if subscribers affirmatively agree to it. Same thing with the content of communications such as emails, and what videos are being watched.

But it makes sense to allow more flexibility for what is opt-in and opt-out based on the sensitivity of the information, rather than whether an ISP or a third party has access.

If the FCC does not harmonize privacy regulations, ISPs will be under a different regime from the edge providers that are arguably the biggest scrapers and users of web data.

This may square with the bifurcated regime the FCC has created, but it hardly seems consumer-friendly. The commission can do better.