FCC blocks rules that stop internet providers from secretly selling your data

The rules, which could be stayed indefinitely, prevented internet providers from selling customer data without their consent.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

FCC chairman Ajit Pai. (Image: file photo)

Federal officials have moved to block rules set out by the Obama administration requiring internet providers to protect customer data -- a day before they were expected to come into effect.

The rules would have prevented internet providers, such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, from selling customer data without their consent.

Advertisers are increasingly pushing to gather more information on consumers, such as gender and race, as well as browsing history and the websites they visit, to better target advertising,

The rules, set out in October 2016, would impose stronger restrictions on internet providers who wish to provide customer information and data to advertisers. The rules also carve out data security requirements and compel internet providers to inform customers of data breaches. The rules say that customers have to explicitly opt-in to allow sharing of web browsing data, geolocation data, and health and financial information.

But FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, a Republican who previously served as a top Verizon lawyer, moved to prevent those rules from coming into effect.

In a brief statement last month, Pai said that one of the previous administration's privacy rules "is not consistent" with the Federal Trade Commission's privacy standards.

His argument was that the rules gave websites the ability to collect more customer data than internet providers, giving websites the edge in advertising.

Last year, when he voted against the rules under former Obama-appointed FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, Pai said in his dissenting opinion that consumers "should not have to be network engineers to understand who is collecting their data and they should not have to be lawyers to determine if their information is protected."

Pai got his way when the FCC voted on Friday in favor of staying the rules.

The FCC said that the decision "will maintain a status quo that has been in place for nearly two years with respect to ISPs and nearly a decade with respect to other telecommunications carriers."

While consumer advocates were in favor of the rules, internet providers and telcos pushed back.

That was made more than apparent when Comcast said in a government filing that it wanted to offer "discounts or other value to consumers in exchange for allowing ISPs to use their data."

In other words, the company wanted its customers to pay for their own privacy.

The FCC said the decision will "provide time" for the FCC and FTC to work together on new rules, in a statement

Given that the FCC is currently split 2-1 in favor of Republicans, the rules may well be delayed indefinitely.

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