A little privacy is OK, but there's no sense going overboard with it. That, in a nutshell, is the message being delivered by the advertising industry to Congress in the hope that the Federal Communications Commission will junk privacy rules adopted last October.
Like the rest of the federal government, the FCC is under new management and has been busily undoing the programs put in place during the Obama years. Already headed for the scrap heap are net neutrality rules and plans to break the cable industry's monopoly on set-top boxes.
Now the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) wants to be sure it's not left behind in the rush to repeal consumer protection measures. It's asking its friends in Congress to instruct the FCC to toss the online privacy order adopted by the FCC last October.
“We support the goal of ensuring that consumers’ online activities are subject to privacy and data security protections that comport with consumer expectations and long-standing privacy policies that have both protected consumers from harm and allowed the internet to flourish," the group claims in a letter. "However, the FCC’s Order would significantly harm consumers as well as our nation’s digital economy.”
“The FCC’s sweeping privacy Order is unprecedented and misguided and would be damaging to the entire online advertising ecosystem,” said Dan Jaffe, Group Executive Vice President of Government Relations for ANA.
Jaffe said the ad industry already has "highly-effective existing privacy self-regulatory programs" in place and doesn't need any advice or instruction from government.
The rules in question establish a "framework of customer consent" that basically require broadband providers to tell consumers that their personal information may be shared with market researchers and advertisers. Consumers would be able to opt out if they wished. Sensitive personal information would require stricter measures.
The measure applies only to internet service providers, not to individual websites.
"Naked power grab"
Supporters of the measure said it was consistent with other privacy frameworks, including the Federal Trade Commission’s and the Obama Administration’s Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.
Industry interests bitterly fought the privacy measure when it was adopted, calling it "a naked power grab," but consumer and privacy groups were generally supportive.
Meredith Rose, staff attorney at Public Knowledge, said the rules would be "a step forward to protecting consumers’ economic and dignitary rights in their own data."
Rose said that without such rules, "consumers face a very real threat of having personal data exposed, sold to third parties without their knowledge, or misused in other fashions."
Or, as former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler put it at the time: "It's the consumers' information and the consumer should have the right to determine how it's used."
ANA was joined in the letter by the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s), the American Advertising Federation (AAF), the Data and Marketing Association (DMA), the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI), CTIA, the United States Telecom Association (USTelecom), NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), the American Cable Association, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), the Information Technology Industry Council (ITI), ITTA, the ICC, and the US Chamber of Commerce.