Ad Industry Lobbies Against 'Confusing' Broadband Privacy Order

The broadband privacy rules championed by former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler are "costly, counterproductive, confusing and unnecessary," the ad industry says in its latest statement criticizing the new regulations.

The major ad trade groups are lobbying Congress to revoke the rules under the Congressional Review Act -- a 1996 law that allows federal lawmakers to overturn recent agency decisions. Last week, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) introduced legislation to rescind the rules under that act. If Congress moves forward with a resolution of disapproval, the FCC won't be allowed to replace the privacy rules with new regulations.

The FCC's rules, passed by a 3-2 vote last October, impose a host of obligations on Internet service providers. Among other provisions, the rules require broadband carriers to obtain consumers' opt-in consent before drawing on their data for ad targeting. That provision won't take effect until December.

Critics of the broadband privacy order, including the ad industry, argue that the rule requiring opt-in consent subjects broadband providers to tougher standards than other search engines, social networking services and other Web companies. Those other companies, known as "edge providers," aren't subject to FCC jurisdiction and don't need to obtain people's opt-in permission to draw on data about their Web use for ad purposes. Instead, many edge providers allow consumers to opt out of receiving behaviorally targeted ads.

"We think this is one of the worst rules that has been put forward in some time," Association of National Advertisers executive vide president Dan Jaffe says. "One way or another, it needs to be stopped."

The American Association of Advertising Agencies, American Advertising Federation, Association of National Advertisers, Data & Marketing Association, Interactive Advertising Bureau, and Network Advertising Initiative argue in a new statement that the FCC's broadband privacy regulations "would break with well-accepted and functioning industry practices, chilling innovation and hurting the consumers the regulation was supposed to protect."

The groups, which circulated the statement to the media on Monday, plan to lobby on the Hill in support of the resolution proposed by Flake and Blackburn, Jaffe says.

The major ad groups have also petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to reconsider the privacy order. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who dissented from the order, has already suspended a potion of the rules that would have required broadband providers to use reasonable security to protect consumers' data. That provision would have taken effect this month.

Jaffe says that if Congress fails to revoke the privacy rules, ad groups will continue to press the FCC to reconsider the regulations.

"If Congress can do it, and they can, we're in strong support of that," he says. "If they do not take that action, we will continue to push at the FCC."

Many privacy advocates support the rules, arguing that broadband providers should follow higher standards than other Web companies because broadband access providers have a comprehensive view of Web users. Broadband providers have access to all unencrypted sites visited by consumers, as well as to their usage patterns.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the watchdog Center for Digital Democracy, says that privacy advocates "are lobbying the Hill vigorously to stop the industry’s attempts to further erode American privacy rights."

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