ANA Vows To Fight 'Misguided' Broadband Privacy Rules

The Association of National Advertisers is vowing to fight the privacy regulations passed today by the Federal Communications Commission that limit broadband providers' ability to use online behavioral advertising techniques.

"The FCC’s new sweeping privacy rules decision is unprecedented, misguided, counterproductive, and potentially extremely harmful," the advertisers' organization said in a statement.

"ANA is committed to seeing these rules undone, either by court challenges or action on Capitol Hill to reverse this extreme overreach by the agency," the group adds.

The rules, which were passed 3-2, require Internet service providers to get subscribers' opt-in consent before using "sensitive" data about them for ad-targeting purposes. The FCC defines "sensitive" more broadly than the ad industry does. The FCC's definition includes Web browsing and app usage history, while the ad industry says the concept is limited to material such as financial account numbers, precise geolocation data and some types of health information.

The ANA says the FCC's definition of "sensitive" data goes too far, contending that the new definition "would encompass and swallow a vast amount of routine consumer data on the Internet and mobile media."

Other ad groups, including the self-regulatory organization Digital Advertising Alliance, have come out with similar objections. "By rejecting the industry's accepted definition of sensitive information, the FCC chose patchwork and inconsistent standards over common sense," Lou Mastria, executive director of the DAA, said in a statement. "General web browsing or application use information is clearly not as sensitive as financial or health information, yet this rule treats them the same.”

But privacy advocates approved of the FCC's move. Many advocates have argued that it makes sense to subject broadband providers to higher privacy standards than other Web companies for several reasons. One is that broadband providers have a comprehensive view of Web activity. Not only can they see all unencrypted traffic on the network, but they also can make inferences about users based on encrypted traffic, according to the consultancy Upturn.

Advocates also point out that consumers have limited options for broadband access providers, but many choices about which sites to visit or services to use.

"This rule represents a significant step forward in protecting internet users, who have no choice but to expose massive amounts of information to broadband providers," Center for Democracy & Technology vice-president Chris Calabrese stated Thursday. "It reflects the reality that where we go online is private and the people we pay to carry it should treat it as private."

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