The Federal Communications Commission plans to forge ahead with broadband privacy rules in the next several months, Chairman Tom Wheeler recently told PBS talk show host Charlie Rose.
Wheeler hasn't yet spelled out the details, but his comments to Rose indicate the agency will require providers to notify consumers about the possibility of online data collection, and allow them to wield control over how that data is used.
"The capital asset of the 21st century is information, and it ends up being information about you and me," Wheeler told the talk show host.
"You and I ought to have a voice in the collection of information about us. Nothing about me without me, is what the expression is."
Wheeler went on to list two "very important baseline rights," which he described as follows: "Do I know what information's being collected" and "Do I have a voice in whether or not that's going to be used in one way or another."
This isn't the first time that Wheeler has touted privacy rules. In June, he said the agency intends to move forward with privacy regulations for broadband providers. “Demand for broadband .. is affected by consumers’ perceptions about the potential non-monetary costs of using it,” Wheeler said in a speech delivered at the Brookings Institution.
The FCC's interest in broadband privacy stems from its decision to reclassify Internet service providers as common carriers. That move subjected broadband providers to some of the same confidentiality requirements rules as telephone companies.
When the FCC issued the open Internet order, the agency said it would consider issuing new broadband-specific rules, as opposed to applying the same rules imposed on telephone companies. Since then, regulators have advised broadband providers to follow the “core tenets of basic privacy protections,” but haven't suggested any specific privacy regulations.
Verizon and AT&T already are pushing the envelope on broadband privacy.
Verizon now uses a “supercookie” tracking technology, which relies on injecting a unique code consisting of a 50-character alphanumeric string into customers' mobile traffic. The technique allows Verizon to track users' mobile Web browsing in order to serve them targeted ads. It also lets Verizon and other companies recreate information about people's Web activity, even if they delete their cookies.
Verizon has since scaled back the initiative. The company now allows people to opt out of the code insertions. It also only sends the code to Web sites it owns -- including those operated by AOL -- and companies that help Verizon provide services.
Despite the new limits on the program, privacy advocates continue to criticize Verizon for tracking its broadband users without their explicit consent.
AT&T also is raising eyebrows with a decision to charge higher fees to some U-Verse subscribers who opt out of receiving targeted ads. The carrier currently charges some U-verse subscribers an extra $29 a month for declining to participate in the “Internet Preferences” ad program -- which involves sending targeted ads to people based on their Web browsing information, search queries and pages visited. Consumer advocates say that the $29-per-month price tag unfairly turns privacy into a luxury.