The FCC Wants to Let Us Choose What the Internet Knows About Us

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Key Speakers At The INTX Internet & Television Expo
Tom Wheeler wants you to choose what you share.Photo: Daniel Acker/© 2015 Bloomberg Finance LP

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Tom Wheeler, is proposing the first ever effort to let internet users choose how much information an internet service provider is allowed to collect, and how that information is used. As it stands, ISPs collect all sorts of data on their users: websites we visit, files we download, even our various physical locations. They often sell that data to places that are littering your screen with you-specific ads. As part of a new plan that will be formally proposed on March 31, Wheeler wants internet users to be able to opt-out of that kind of information collection, while ISPs sharing your information with third parties would be opt-in. 

All we’re saying in our proposal is that you, the consumer, ought to have a say in whether they can repackage and use information, which is basically your information, not their information,” Wheeler said to NPR. Telecom companies are against the proposal and have said that it undercuts their ability to compete with a company like Google, which is regulated by the FTC and is free to collect as much data as it wants. The business concerns seem to be real: Earlier this week, Moody’s said that the FCC’s privacy proposal could hurt broadband providers’ credit ratings.

If the plan goes through, companies will likely be in a position of needing to create incentives for you to share your information. AT&T already allows customers to opt-out of their data-tracking program for a nominal fee. Wheeler says that he wants to cut customers in on the bartering that is already going on over the buying and selling of their information. “First you empower consumers to say, ‘Do I want my information used?’ Then you empower consumers to say, ‘Is there a value that I put on my information?’ and work some kind of a deal with the Internet service provider to reflect that value.” It is important to note that the proposal holds no weight until the “net neutrality” or Open Internet case, still sitting in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, actually rules that ISPs are providing a service that can be regulated by the FCC.