Consumer Watchdog Asks FCC To Require Internet Companies To Honor Do Not Track

WASHINGTON, DC – Consumer Watchdog today petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to enact rules that would require Internet companies known as “edge providers”, such as Google and Facebook, to honor Do Not Track requests sent from a consumer’s web browser.

New rules protecting net neutrality and reclassifying broadband Internet access providers as common carriers that went into effect last Friday do not extend privacy protections to edge providers. Consumer Watchdog’s petition cites FCC authority under another law to take immediate action to protect consumer privacy if it finds broadband is not being deployed in a timely fashion.

Because the FCC has found that concerns about Internet privacy can hinder broadband deployment, rules to protect privacy, such as requiring companies to honor Do Not Track requests, are necessary to promote improved broadband use, the nonpartisan, nonprofit group said.

“The Commission’s 2015 Open Internet Order reclassified broadband Internet access service as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, emphasizing the importance of protecting consumer privacy by finding ‘that if consumers have concerns about the privacy of their personal information, such concerns may restrain them from making full use of broadband Internet access services and the Internet, thereby lowering the likelihood of broadband adoption and decreasing consumer demand,”  the petition said.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s petition here:

“Acting to ensure consumers’ privacy while they use the Internet is one of the immediate steps the Commission should take to bolster the rate of broadband adoption,” the petition said. “As the Commission has found previously, the protection of customers’ personal information may spur consumer demand for those services, in turn ‘driving demand for broadband connections, and consequently encouraging more broadband investment and deployment’ consistent with the goals of the 1996 Act.”

“Ensuring that ISPs respect their customers’ privacy is important, but privacy rules covering companies like Google and Facebook are also necessary if people are going to trust the Internet,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “The FCC clearly has the authority it needs and must do everything it can to build that trust if it is to succeed in promoting timely broadband deployment.”

The new net neutrality rules, which apply Section 222 of the Communications Act to broadband Internet access providers like Comcast, Time Warner and AT&T, will require the ISPs to protect consumers’ privacy, but don’t extend Section 222 privacy protections to the Internet edge providers.

In its petition, written by Simpson and Staff Attorney Laura Antonini, Consumer Watchdog said that the FCC has authority under Title I of the Communications Act to regulate Internet “information services,” and can require privacy protection without invoking Section 222. This is because the Telecommunications Act of 1996 requires the Commission to report annually on whether broadband “is being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion,” and to take “immediate action” if it is not.  Consumer Watchdog noted the 2015 report found that “broadband is not being deployed to all Americans in a reasonable and timely fashion.”

Consumer Watchdog’s petition noted that all four major web browsers, Apple’s Safari, Google’s Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, have the capability to send a Do Not Track request. However, companies are under no obligation to honor it and most don’t.

Under Consumer Watchdog’s proposed rule an edge provider offering a first-party online service that received a Do Not Track request would be prohibited from selling, sharing, or otherwise transferring the personal information of the consumer to any other entity, including a third-party online service.

The proposed rule would also require edge providers offering a third-party online service to honor Do Not Track requests and not collect or store consumers’ personal data.

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Published by John M. Simpson

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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