Seattle Requires Opt-in Consent for ISP Web History Sharing

The city of Seattle has issued a new rule requiring ISPs to get opt-in permission from their subs before selling web browsing history or personally identifiable information—either the details or in aggregate.

The move came in response to Congress' repeal of the FCC's broadband privacy framework adopted under former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler.

The rule was issued by the Seattle Information Technology Department using authority in the city's franchise agreements.

"Mayor [Edward] Murray believes protecting the privacy of internet users is essential to a free and open society," said Kristen Glundberg-Prosser, a public information officer for the city. "In April 2017 the Trump administration repealed rules issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that would have would have banned internet service providers from sharing or selling certain types of customer information without user consent. Because of this repeal at the national level, the City is using powers at its disposal to implement a similar rule and protect the rights of our public."

One argument Republican legislators and ISPs used in backing the privacy reg rollback was that there were state and local privacy laws and rules still on the books. That rollback has become something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Murray is a Democrat who has vowed strong resistance to Trump policies.

The new rule affects Comcast, CenturyLink, and Wave Broadband, according to Glundberg-Prosser. They must come into compliance by Sept. 30. Because they do not have a franchise, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon are not subject to the new opt-in requirement.

It also does not apply to edge providers and browsers, like Seattle-based Microsoft, a point Glundberg-Prosser also makes.

"While this rule limits how internet service providers may use a customer’s web browsing activity or other internet usage history, it does not limit the ability of websites or other companies offering online services from tracking a user’s activity," she blogged following the rule's adoption this week.

(Photo via Rock1997Image taken on Jan. 18, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 3x4 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.