Commentary

Seattle Passes Tough Broadband Privacy Rules

The city of Seattle has passed privacy regulations that require cable providers to obtain subscribers' opt-in consent before using information about their Web browsing for ad purposes.

Seattle's new rules, which take effect May 24, are similar to the nationwide privacy rules that were repealed last month.

“Where the Trump administration continues to roll back critical consumer protections, Seattle will act,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said Wednesday in a statement. "I believe protecting the privacy of internet users is essential and this policy allows the City to do just that."

Seattle's new regulations will affect three cable broadband providers -- Comcast, Century Link and Wave -- according to the Seattle Times. State lawmakers are considering passing similar laws for all of Washington, according to the Seattle Times.

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The city's move comes four weeks after President Donald Trump signed a measure repealing broadband privacy rules passed last year by the Federal Communications Commission. Those rules also prohibited carriers from drawing on people's Web-surfing data for ad targeting, without their opt-in consent.

The ad industry and broadband carriers lobbied heavily against those rules, arguing that the regulations subjected Internet service providers to tougher standards than Google, Facebook or other online companies. Those other companies typically allow consumers to opt out of receiving targeted ads, but only require opt-in consent before serving ads based on a narrow category of "sensitive" data -- like financial account numbers or health information.

Privacy advocates countered that broadband providers weren't comparable to search engines, social networking services or other Web publishers. Advocates argued that only Internet service providers have access to all unencrypted sites visited by subscribers, and that many people have little choice about which ISP to use.

The repeal of the federal rules appeared to trigger a backlash at local levels of government. Ten states are currently considering separate legislation that would prohibit ISPs from drawing on data about customers' Web activity without first obtaining their explicit permission.

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