New FCC data rules could boost online privacy

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A new set of rules by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that requires Internet service providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to ask for customers’ permission before using and sharing it could pave way for increased online privacy, industry experts believe.

The new rules will make it much harder for ISPs to build advertising businesses that could serve as competition to Google and Facebook. One interesting point to be noted is that Google and Facebook aren’t covered by these rules. Industry groups representing the cable, phone and advertising industries criticized the outcome of Thursday’s vote. On the other hand, several consumer-advocacy groups have hailed the new set of rules and have also called upon the FCC to take these rules to the next level.

So what do these rules bring with them? Under the new rules, your broadband provider will have to ask for your permission before it can tell an advertiser exactly where you are by tracking your phone and what interests you have gleaned from the websites visited and the apps you have used. For some information that’s not considered as private, like names and addresses, there’s a more lenient approach. Customers should assume that broadband providers can use that information, but they can “opt out” of letting them do so.

There will not be much visible difference in the online experience for most consumers. There will be more notices from your home Internet or wireless carrier saying what type of information they collect and that they’d like to use and share it.

The Federal Communications Commission’s measure was scaled back from an earlier proposal, but was still criticized by the advertising, telecommunications and cable industries.

Cable and phone companies want to increase revenue from ad businesses of their own – AT&T has said increasing advertising tailored to customers’ preferences is one of its goals with its $85.4 billion purchase of HBO, CNN and TBS owner Time Warner. Verizon has bought AOL and agreed to buy Yahoo in order to build up a digital-ad business.

But the new rules could make doing that more difficult. Companies and industry groups say it’s confusing and unfair that the regulations are stricter than the Federal Trade Commission standards that Google and Facebook operate under.

FCC officials approved the rules on a 3-2 vote Thursday, its latest contentious measure to pass on party lines.