Broadband Privacy Bill Unveiled In California

California is joining the growing list of states to consider passing new laws aimed at protecting the privacy of broadband users.

Assembly Member Ed Chau (D-Monterey Park) Monday unveiled a measure that would require Internet service providers to obtain consumers' opt-in consent before using their Web-browsing information for targeted advertising. AB 375 would also prohibit ISPs from using "pay-for-privacy" billing schemes, which involve charging customers higher fees to avoid targeted ads.

The move comes two months after President Donald Trump signed a bill repealing nationwide broadband privacy rules that would have prohibited carriers from drawing on people's Web-browsing history for ad purposes without their opt-in consent. The repeal cleared the Senate by a party-line 50-48 vote. In the House, the vote was 215-205, with 10 Republicans joining Democrats in opposing the measure.

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The ad industry and broadband carriers lobbied heavily against the FCC's rules, arguing that they 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 pointed out that only Internet service providers have access to all unencrypted sites visited by subscribers, and that many consumers have no choice about which ISP to use.

The repeal sparked a privacy backlash at the local level. Currently, new laws have been introduced in at least 19 states -- including New Jersey, Maine and Washington. The city of Seattle recently also passed its own privacy regulations that require cable providers to obtain subscribers' opt-in consent before using information about their Web browsing for ad purposes. Those rules will take effect May 24.

On the national level, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), who spearheaded the House's repeal of the FCC's regulations, recently introduced a bill that would require all Web companies -- broadband providers as well as businesses like social networking services and search engines -- to obtain consumers' opt-in consent before using their online browsing data for ad targeting.

A written version of the California measure is expected to be available on Tuesday, and lawmakers could start debating the bill as early as next month.

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