Internet service providers would have to obtain consumers' opt-in consent before sending them targeted ads based on their Web-surfing activity, under a proposal unveiled today by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler .
"Every broadband consumer should have the right to know what information is being collected and how it is used," Wheeler said Thursday in a piece published on the Huffington Post. "Every broadband consumer should have the right to choose how their information bits are should be used and shared."
"This is not to say network providers shouldn’t be able to use information they collect -- only that since it is your information, you should decide whether they can do so," he added. "This isn’t about prohibition; it’s about permission."
Wheeler obviously rejected some of the conclusions put forward by privacy expert Peter Swire, who said in a report last week that broadband providers no longer have a comprehensive view of consumers' activity due to factors like the growth of encryption.
"An ISP handles all of its customers’ network traffic, which means it has an unobstructed view of all of their unencrypted online activity -- the websites they visit, the applications they use," the FCC said in a fact sheet issued Thursday. "Even when data is encrypted, broadband providers can still see the websites that a customer visits, how often they visit them, and the amount of time they spend on each website. Using this information, ISPs can piece together enormous amounts of information about their customers -- including private information such as a chronic medical condition or financial problems."
The agency added that consumers' relationships with ISPs are different from relationships with Web sites or apps. "Consumers can move instantaneously to a different website, search engine or application. But once they sign up for broadband service, consumers can scarcely avoid the network for which they are paying a monthly fee," the FCC stated.