FCC Proposes Stringent Rules For ISPs To Protect User Privacy – ‘Nutrition Labels’ Revealing Speed, Caps, And Hidden Fees Suggested Too

The FCC has proposed new rules that will force the ISPs to protect user privacy. Moreover, the agency also unveiled new broadband labels that are akin to the “Nutrition labels” on food products, which will mention details about speed, pricing, caps, and hidden fees too.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted on a proposal for rules that strongly govern how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) handle the online data of a user. The new set of rules would be applicable to broadband as well as wireless internet providers. The FCCs proposal has been spearheaded by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who said the following.

“Every broadband consumer should have the right to choose how their information bits should be used and shared.”

Wheeler justified his proposed rules saying Internet users often have options to safeguard their privacy when using online services. He noted that search engines, as well as social media platforms, give ample choice, but ISPs, the middle-men of internet connectivity, more often than not, do not have such choices, leaving user privacy at risk with no provision to prevent the collection of data.

The rules, if enacted, will establish the strongest set of privacy regulations ever for ISPs. Needless to say, internet providers have been up in arms and are dead set against the proposed regulations. The ISPs have openly questioned the FCC and challenged its authority asking its eligibility for making such rules. Moreover, they have categorically pointed out that many Internet players have been left out of the purview of the proposed set of regulations, and they are still following separate rules which do not include such stringent measures to protect user privacy.

What do the revised rules propose? Essentially, FCC would be in charge of consumer privacy, a job previously handled by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The ISPs will have to publish their data collection methods in “plain language,” reported DSL Reports. They will have to add how the data is shared and with whom. Besides explaining how the data will be used by external agencies, ISPs will have to bolster security practices and protocols to protect customer data.

The new rules specifically prohibit broadband providers from sharing user information like name, location or online activity, with third parties. The ISPs will have to secure express consent from their users to use or share their data.

Essentially, consumers can still opt for an ad-sponsored and subsidized service that relies on targeted ads which rely on customer data, but ISPs can’t just assume that the user is OK with the data being shared. ISPs will have to offer an option to opt out or say no.

Though the rules are stringent, experts argue that many Internet players like Facebook and Google or device makers such as Apple are excluded from the rules and that’s what dilutes the efficacy. The FCC governs only phone, cable, and wireless companies and doesn’t have jurisdiction over Internet companies. These companies can still collect data about location and Internet surfing patterns. Such data offers a treasure trove of information which can be sold to advertisers or other third parties.

Besides these proposed rules, FCC also suggested ISPs have a “Consumer Broadband Label,” reported Consumerist. These informative labels are supposed to educate the buyers of broadband services. These labels will have to include crucial information such as prices (including hidden fees tacked onto the base price), data caps, overage charges, speed, latency, packet loss, and so on, reported Ars Technica.

While ISPs need not use these labels, they will be required to make specific disclosures in “an accurate, understandable, and easy-to-find manner.” The labels are a part of “transparency requirements,” which itself, is part of the FCC’s net neutrality order.

[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]

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