Trump Appoints Critic Of Broadband Privacy Rules To Transition Team

Net neutrality critic Roslyn Layton will join two other opponents of the new open Internet rules -- Jeff Eisenach and Mark Jamison -- on President-elect Donald Trump's transition team.

Layton, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, doesn't just oppose the recent net neutrality regulations. She also has been one of the most vocal critics of the Federal Communications Commission's new privacy rules, which limit broadband providers' ability to engage in online behavioral advertising.

The rules prohibit Internet service providers from drawing on information about subscribers' Web activity and app usage for ad targeting, without consumers' explicit consent. The privacy regulations apply only to companies that provide consumers with access to broadband, like Comcast, Time Warner and Verizon. Web publishers, search engines, social networks and other so-called "edge providers," aren't bound by the new rules and need not obtain users' explicit permission to draw on data about their Web use for ad purposes.

Four days after the FCC passed the rules, Layton blasted the regulations as "misinformed" and "unjustified."

Layton argued that the rules will deter broadband providers from entering the online ad market -- which she described as "heavily oligopolistic," referring to the large market share commanded by Google and Facebook.

The FCC's privacy rules were widely praised by consumer advocates, but ad organizations, broadband providers and other companies -- including Google -- lobbied against them.

Layton also argued that the FCC had no reason to take action. "The FCC has no complaints about online privacy violations; and no investigations were conducted to determine whether broadband providers had violated consumers’ privacy," she said in a blog post.

Despite her assertion, earlier this year the FCC fined Verizon $1.35 million over its use of a technology that tracked mobile customers' Web activity for ad-targeting purposes. That matter stemmed from Verizon's injection of unique tracking headers -- 50-character alphanumeric strings -- into all unencrypted traffic on the mobile network. Ad networks were able to use those headers to send targeted ads to mobile users, even when they tried to avoid tracking by deleting their cookies.

The FCC's investigation in that matter focused on whether Verizon violated the Communications Act's privacy provisions -- which require carriers to protect customers' "proprietary information" -- and whether the company violated a 2010 net neutrality rule requiring disclosure of broadband management practices.

Verizon wasn't the only broadband provider to recently engage in a questionable practice. AT&T also spurred controversy with a pricing plan that charged some broadband subscribers higher fees to avoid online ad targeting. The company dropped its "pay-for-privacy" scheme in September, one month before the FCC passed the new rules.

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