New Law Threatens Privacy

Another marathon political month ends with the US going in the opposite direction regarding consumer data from the EU.  This could end up being confusing to both consumers and advertisers.

The US Senate has passed a bill saying that ISPs can now monetize consumer data in the same way Google and Facebook do. This bill is headed over to the House for a vote. On the face of it, the bill actually equalizes rights, giving ISPs the same rights as platforms. The FCC Chairman who replaced Tom Wheeler has defined this as  part of net neutrality, although that’s not what net neutrality used to be.

““The federal government shouldn’t favor one set of companies over another — and certainly not when it comes to a marketplace as dynamic as the Internet,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and FTC Chairman Maureen Ohlhausen in a joint statement. The two agencies will work together to achieve “a technology-neutral privacy framework for the online world,” they said. “Such a uniform approach is in the best interests of consumers and has a long track record of success.”

Several privacy advocate groups have, of course, come out against the new legislation, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Americans have enjoyed a legal right to privacy from your communications provider under Section 222 of the Telecommunications Act for more than twenty years. When Congress made that law, it had a straightforward vision in how it wanted the dominate communications network (at that time the telephone company) to treat your data, recognizing that you are forced to share personal information in order to utilize the service and did not have workable alternatives.

Now Congress has begun to reverse course by eliminating your communication privacy protections in order to open the door for the cable and telephone industry to aggressively monetize your personal information.

Of course the EFF is an advocacy organization, but privacy groups have become very powerful. And we care about this because anything that makes consumers feel uncertainty about their personal information has a propensity to interfere with the advertising business model most publishers depend on.

We work closely with the Online Trust Association, which also saw this as a potential blow to consumers, and thus to the ad-supported business model, since privacy advocates are now saying ISP stands for “Information Sales for Profit.” As a platform, we neither hold nor track  consumer data, so we’re not directly involved. But we do have a dog in this hunt because we are strong supporters of free internet content that is ad-supported. We work with our partners to make better ads, so there can be fewer ads. We also work with our partners on brand safety in media buying.

We must take pains to maintain the highest ethical and privacy standards so we don’t entice consumers to download more ad blockers. Before this ruling, we had achieved stasis, and were moving on. Let’s do everything we can to keep going in the right direction for both publishers and advertisers, as well as for consumers.