Now that the Federal Communications Commission has reclassified broadband as a utility, the agency is expected to issue regulations governing broadband users' privacy.
It's not yet clear whether the FCC is inclined to regulate how carriers draw on information about people's browsing history for behavioral-targeting programs. But the agency has signaled that it will at least consider whether broadband users are entitled to prevent information about their Web activity from being compiled and used in ad-targeting profiles.
While regulators in the U.S. obviously will come to their own conclusions, it's worth noting that just this week, Canada's top privacy official found fault with an ad-targeting program operated by Bell Canada.
For that initiative, Bell created targeting profiles by combining information about customers' Web browsing activity, app usage, TV viewing and voice calling patterns with demographic data. Bell allowed people to opt out of receiving targeted ads, but didn't allow people to prevent the data collection.
Canada's Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien said in a report issued Tuesday that Bell should obtain users' explicit consent before subjecting them to this kind of tracking and targeting.
Bell opposed that idea on the grounds that “requiring it to obtain opt-in consent would put it at a competitive disadvantage,” according to the report.
“Bell's position seems to be that its true competitors are not only telecommunications service providers and broadcasting distribution undertakings, but also online websites and other organizations engaged in targeted advertising,” the report states.
After initially refusing to shift to an opt-in approach, Bell Canada changed its mind. The company told the UK newspaper The Guardian today that it will “abide by the privacy commissioner's decision” and get customers' express consent to the program.
Research tends to show that consumers like to see things they "like." However, more and more of them are aware of the privacy concerns and it is interesting to see regulator's response. This will be a canary in the coal mine to watch.