Privacy Groups Pan Anonymized Sub Data Carveout

WASHINGTON — A group comprising more than 30 privacy organizations is calling on Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler not to create a carveout for anonymized data in his broadband privacy proposal.

In a letter to the chairman, the group said such a carveout would be anti-consumer and would fail to square with statute.

Wheeler’s broadband proposal would require that broadband subscribers agree beforehand to most third-party uses of personal data, such as which sites they visit — an “opt-in” regime — but ISPs, including those represented by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, have called for allowing “de-identified” information to be shared. The letter’s signatories, which include Public Knowledge, Free Press and the Center for Digital Democracy, said it is too easy to reconstruct identities from such anonymized information.

The group letter said customer information, anonymized or not, belongs to the customer, and ISPs have failed to show how those customers would benefit from the carveout. Instead, it would be an “an attractive way for [ISPs] to circumvent the vital consumer protections that will be put in place by this rule.”

The FCC deeded itself broadband privacy oversight when it reclassified ISPs as Title II common carriers no longer subject to Federal Trade Commission privacy protections.

The group also wants the FCC to prevent arbitration clauses in privacy disputes between ISPs and customers so consumers are not giving up their right to sue when they sign up. Moreover, it registered concerns with pay for privacy, in which customers would be offered a benefit, like a lower bill, for allowing third-party use of their data.

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.