Proposed FCC rules would limit how Internet service providers can use your data – Los Angeles Times

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Cable and wireless companies would face new restrictions on how they could use the personal information of their customers, including their Web-browsing activity, according to privacy regulations proposed Thursday by a top federal regulator.

In most cases, broadband Internet service providers would need to get permission from customers to use or share the vast trove of data collected about them as they surf the Internet, send email or use mobile apps, the Federal Communications Commission said.

“Simply by using the Internet, you have no choice but to share large amounts of personal information with your broadband provider,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in article on the Huffington Post.

“You have a right to know what information is being collected about you and how that information is being used,” he said.

Wheeler’s plan, which was circulated to the agency’s four other commissioners on Thursday, also would require Internet service providers to notify customers within 10 days if there was a breach involving their personal data.

The FCC is expected to vote on the proposal on March 31. Wheeler and the two other Democrats who make up the majority of the commission are expected to vote for the measures.

The privacy proposal is the latest front in a battle between Wheeler and the large Internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, which oppose the new rules.

Last year, the FCC’s Democrats approved tough new rules for online traffic known as net neutrality that the broadband companies strongly fought.

Those rules put broadband providers in the same legal category as more highly regulated conventional telephone companies. In doing so, the FCC also extended its privacy authority over the broadband companies.

The new rules do not apply to data collected by individual websites or social networks, such as Facebook or Twitter.

Wheeler said Internet service providers were different.

“Your ISP handles all of your network traffic,” he said.

“That means it has a broad view of all of your unencrypted online activity -– when you are online, the websites you visit, and the apps you use,” Wheeler said. “If you have a mobile device, your provider can track your physical location throughout the day in real time.”

Internet service providers would be able to use customer data without permission to calculate bills, market improved services and deliver Web pages, email and other data.

Broadband providers would also be able to share customer information with affiliated companies to try to sell other communications-related services unless the customer opts out.

All other uses of personal information would require a customer to give specific permission, or opt in, Wheeler said.

“The bottom line is that it’s your data,” he said. “How it’s used and shared should be your choice.”

Major trade groups representing broadband providers urged the FCC to take a less restrictive approach.

In a March 1 letter to Wheeler, the groups said the agency should follow the longstanding approach of the Federal Trade Commission, which has focused on preventing unfair and deceptive practices.

The FTC rules govern all companies in the Internet community, including companies such as Google and Apple.

Subjecting broadband providers to tougher privacy regulations would not be fair, industry officials said.

In a blog post this week, Bob Quinn, AT&T’s senior vice president for federal regulatory policy, said that Internet service providers “do not currently live in a ‘regulatory-free zone’ when it comes to privacy, nor are we asking to live in one in the future.”

“Given the realities of this complex market, there is no basis for treating ISP data as somehow ‘proprietary’ or subjecting ISPs to unique privacy requirements,” Quinn said.

But consumer groups and privacy advocates pushed the FCC to enact tough new restrictions.

“ISPs currently play a leading role in the complex ecosystem of online behavioral advertising and related forms of data-driven, targeted marketing,” a dozen organizations, including Consumers Union and the American Civil Liberties Union, wrote to Wheeler on March 7.

“These companies are showing an increased interest in monetizing the data they collect about their customers, and they are leveraging their position as gatekeepers to the Internet to harness this data in powerful and invasive ways,” the groups said.

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Proposed FCC rules would limit how Internet service providers can use your data – Los Angeles Times