Broadband Privacy Bill Stalls In California

Lawmakers in California late Friday shelved a privacy bill that would have limited broadband providers' ability to serve targeted ads to subscribers.

The measure (AB 375) sought to recreate broadband privacy rules passed last year by the Federal Communications Commission, but repealed by Congress this year. California lawmakers can still consider the bill in the future, but not until next January.

The bill, introduced in June by California Assemblyman Ed Chau, would have required Internet service providers to obtain consumers' opt-in consent before using their web-browsing information for targeted advertising. The California bill also would have gone further than the former FCC rules in at least one respect: The measure would have prohibited ISPs from using "pay-for-privacy" billing schemes, which involve charging customers higher fees to avoid targeted ads.

The measure was supported by former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler, who said Wednesday that the bill "will restore the privacy protections that Congress took away."

Industry groups, including the Association of National Advertisers, the major broadband providers, and tech companies including Google and Facebook vocally opposed the measure.

Last week, opponents argued to lawmakers that privacy rules requiring opt-in consent would result in a deluge of pop-up ads, as broadband carriers presumably continuously sought to obtain users' consent to online tracking. Critics made similar claims in an online ad campaign that ran last week on some California news sites.

A large majority of the public appears to support privacy rules requiring broadband carriers to obtain users' opt-in consent before drawing on their web-browsing data for ad targeting. In April, a survey by Huffington Post and YouGov reportedly showed that more than 70% of Republicans and Democrats wanted President Donald Trump to veto a repeal of the privacy rules.

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