It's no secret that broadband providers aren't happy about proposed new rules that would require them to obtain consumers' opt-in consent before using data about their Web-surfing activity to send them targeted ads.
While the major Internet service providers will almost certainly file comments with the Federal Communications Commission, some are wasting no time in making their feelings known. Verizon, for instance, has already met with the FCC to lobby in person against the proposal.
"We expressed general agreement with the use of a notice and consent framework for addressing the privacy practices of broadband providers but expressed significant concerns with the Commission’s lead proposal for implementing such a framework," the company says in a regulatory filing summarizing a meeting held last Thursday.
Verizon -- which was recently fined $1.35 million by the FCC for using "supercookies" to track mobile customers for ad-targeting purposes -- argues that "broad opt-in requirements" are not only unnecessary, but "inconsistent" with practices of other Web companies.
"The proposed opt-in requirement ... would create substantial practical challenges for broadband providers and would make it more difficult for these providers to bring new competition to the market for online advertising," the company writes.
Verizon is correct that Google, Facebook and other so-called "edge providers" don't ask consumers to consent before using online behavioral advertising techniques.
But Verizon also differs in critical ways from edge providers like search engines, social networks or companies offering content: Consumers can visit different Web companies at will, with just the click of a mouse. But switching ISPs is time-consuming and potentially expensive. In some cases, consumers can't change ISPs no matter how much they want to, because there's only one high-speed provider in their neighborhoods.
On top of that, ISPs have access to more information about subscribers' Web activity than any one content company, social media service, or ad network. That's because ISPs have a view into all unencrypted Web traffic.
While more sites appear to be using encryption technology than in the past, the vast majority of sites still don't fully support encryption, according to a recent paper by Upturn. Besides, even when traffic is encrypted, ISPs can still glean information about consumers by examining the metadata, Upturn reports.
Verizon also says it should only be required to obtain opt-in consent for "the most sensitive use cases."
"In other instances," Verizon says, "meaningful notice combined with opt-out (or implied) consent would protect consumers while allowing flexibility for providers to operate, innovate, and compete more effectively."
It's not clear what Verizon means by that phrase, or how it would distinguish the "most sensitive" cases from the run-of-the-mill ones.
The FCC has said it will accept initial comments on the proposal through May 27.