Broadband Privacy Proposal Threatens To 'Severely Burden' Consumers, ANA Says

The Federal Communications Commission's proposed broadband privacy rules may "severely burden" consumers by subjecting them to a deluge of requests to consent to online behavioral advertising.

That's according to the Association of National Advertisers, which this week filed a new round of comments criticizing the proposal. The potential rules, put forward earlier this year by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, would require broadband providers to obtain people's opt-in consent before using their Web activity to decide which ads to serve.

Privacy advocates support the proposed rules, while Internet service providers, the ANA and other ad organizations oppose them.

The ANA suggests in its comments these rules would spur broadband providers to nag consumers nonstop, resulting in so-called "notice fatigue."

"Consumers faced with a constant barrage of choice notifications on their computers, tablets and mobile phones may refuse to opt in altogether," the ANA writes. "In other instances, consumers could find themselves aggravated by too many notices and therefore click to opt in, just to make an opt-in pop-up box go away. Therefore, notice fatigue is likely to undermine consumer focus on the privacy choice presented."



The advertisers' group also criticizes the proposal for requiring opt-in consent regardless of the sensitivity of the data. "Consumers need not be protected from the exposure of such details about their lives as their favorite color, desired flavor of ice cream or other such non-sensitive information," the advertisers' organization writes. "The Commission’s regulatory resources should not be squandered -- or onerous regulatory requirements be imposed -- on data that is of no consequence to consumers, if released."

Others, including FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen, have also suggested that the FCC's rules should take into account whether broadband providers are tracking people based on "sensitive" or "non-sensitive" data.

But privacy advocates have flagged a significant problem with that approach: No one can agree on what kind of data is sensitive.

Industry groups like the Network Advertising Initiative and Digital Advertising Alliance even define "sensitive" health information differently. The DAA considers "pharmaceutical prescriptions or medical records related to a specific individual" sensitive health data. But the NAI says sensitive health data includes “precise information about past, present, or potential future health or medical conditions or treatments, including genetic, genomic, and family medical history."

Privacy guru Paul Ohm recently pointed out in his FCC comments that Facebook and Google also have their own sensitive information for online ad purposes. "Advertisers can definitely target ads to people suffering from a particular disability on DAA platforms, definitely not on Facebook, and probably not on Google or NAI," Ohm writes. "Genomic information is only expressly prohibited within the NAI definition, arguably within Google’s, and likely not Facebook’s or DAA’s."

The FCC is accepting comments on the proposal through today.

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