Federal regulators have approved unprecedented new rules to ensure broadband providers do not abuse their customers’ app usage and browsing history, mobile location data and other sensitive personal information generated while using the Internet.
The rules, passed Thursday in a 3-2 vote by the Federal Communications Commission, require Internet providers, such as Comcast and Verizon, to obtain their customers’ explicit consent before using or sharing that behavioral data with third parties, such as marketing firms.
Also covered by that requirement are health data, financial information, Social Security numbers and the content of emails and other digital messages. The measure allows the FCC to impose the opt-in rule on other types of information in the future, but certain types of data, such as a customer’s IP address and device identifier, are not subject to the opt-in requirement. The rules also force service providers to tell consumers clearly what data they collect and why, as well as to take steps to notify customers of data breaches.
“It’s the consumers’ information,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. “How it is used should be the consumers’ choice. Not the choice of some corporate algorithm.”
The fresh regulations come as Internet providers race to turn their customers’ behavioral data into opportunities to sell targeted advertising. No longer content to be the conduits to websites, social media and online video, broadband companies increasingly view the information they collect on users as they traverse the Web as a source of revenue in itself.
With its move, the FCC is seeking to bring Internet providers’ conduct in line with that of traditional telephone companies that have historically obeyed strict prohibitions on the unauthorized use or sale of call data.
But the Internet era has brought new challenges, in some cases creating different categories of personal information — and ways to use it — that did not exist in the telephone era. And as the line increasingly blurs between traditional network operators and online content companies, regulators have struggled to keep pace.
For example, Verizon’s acquisitions of AOL and Yahoo are both aimed at monetizing Internet usage beyond the straightforward sale of broadband access. With greater insights into customer behavior, the company could market additional services or content to its wireless subscribers as part of a bundle, policy analysts say. That arrangement could allow Verizon to effectively earn money twice from the same subscriber — once for the data plan, and then again when the customer consumes Verizon-affiliated content.
Although Thursday’s vote by the FCC requires companies, such as Verizon, to obtain explicit permission from consumers when it shares sensitive personal data with outside firms, it does not require broadband providers to ask permission before using the data themselves.
For instance, Verizon would be able to use a wireless subscriber’s usage history to recommend purchasing a larger mobile data plan. It could also use the customer’s information to market its home Internet service, Verizon FiOS, even though FiOS is a separate product operated by a different part of the company. In neither case would Verizon have to ask for the subscriber’s affirmative consent.
But Verizon would have to allow consumers the chance to opt out of having their usage history shared with other Verizon businesses that do not sell communications services, such as AOL or Yahoo, according to the rules.
Consumer advocates say it’s a step in the right direction, even if they would have preferred stricter requirements.
“It’s not so far off the mark that it guts the provision,” said Harold Feld, a senior vice president at the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. “It still provides sufficient protections for consumers to regard this as a positive step.”
A trade association for the cable industry criticized the regulations Thursday as “profoundly disappointing.”
“Today’s result speaks more to regulatory opportunism than reasoned policy,” said the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.
— The FCC just passed sweeping new rules to protect your online privacy, Brian Fung, Washington Post, 10:41 a.m. today
Here’s what Wikipedia’s summary of how commissioners are selected under the Federal Communications Act, which established the FCC:
The FCC is directed by five commissioners appointed by the President of the United States and confirmed by the United States Senate for five-year terms, except when filling an unexpired term. The U.S. President designates one of the commissioners to serve as chairman. Only three commissioners may be members of the same political party. None of them may have a financial interest in any FCC-related business.
Okay, look, folks. The big news story today is Washington Post reporter Rosalind Helderman’s report on a 13-page memo from 2011 by Clinton Foundation and “Bill Clinton Inc.” impresario Douglas Band (the term “Bill Clinton Inc.” is Band’s, in the memo).
A lot of what’s detailed in there has been out there for a while, but has not penetrated virally during the general election—and did not during the primary season possibly because Sanders limited his attacks on Clinton mainly to her record as senator and to her post-Secretary of State speaking-circuit career.
But it will penetrate now, almost certainly.
Which is why it is even more important now than it has been for voters to distinguish between Clinton the person and the Democratic platform and Democratic agency and judicial appointees, which Clinton is now, finally, campaigning on.
Among last weekend’s (I think; I’ve lost track specifically) WikiLeak’s hacked Podesta-emails dump, there were two that just took my breath away. Both were from early 2015, shortly before Clinton deigned to finally formally announce her candidacy.
One involved intense efforts by her newly hired campaign manager and Podesta and longtime Clinton surrogate and Podesta protégé Neera Tanden to convince Hillary Clinton that Bill Clinton badly needed to not give a scheduled paid speech to Morgan Stanley days after Clinton’s long-anticipated announcement of her candidacy. Clinton was adamant that this paid speech not be cancel, and agreed finally to its cancellation only when told that Bill Clinton agreed it should be cancelled.
The other concerned equally fraught attempts by the same players plus Human Abedin to persuade Hillary Clinton that she should not fly off to Morocco shortly after that scheduled announcement, to attend gaudy festivities paid by the Moroccan government and accept a large donation to the Foundation from the Moroccan king. The particular difficulty in her cancelling this was that she herself had solicited it. Ultimately Clinton agreed to have Bill substitute for her.
I held my fire here on these, because it was a matter of first things first. All that matters to me now in this election is seeing her win and seeing the Democrats recapture the Senate and do as well as conceivably possible in House races.
But what angered me intensely about these two revelations—the Morgan Stanley speaking fee even more that the Morocco trip—was the unmitigated lack of concern by this couple for the immense harm to so many people if the Republican nominee won the White House and Republicans retained control of the Senate. It appeared at the time that the nomination was Clinton’s simply for the asking; she would have no real competition for it. And the fact of the exorbitant speaking fee from Morgan Stanley would become known with the release of the Clintons’ tax returns in mid or late April 2016—too late for a primary challenge, but nicely available to the Republicans in the general election.
Granted, the Republican contest back then appeared likely to be between Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, both of whom were profoundly compromised candidates. Rubio is a wholly owned subsidiary of one of the two major national private-prison companies and some Miami financial industry billionaire who effectively supported Rubio and his wife for several years. Bush was making millions as a member of a yuge number of corporate boards and also as a hedge fund executive whose value came from his last name.
But the bottom line (so to speak) is that Hillary Clinton is the Democratic presidential nominee only because so much that would have mattered, pre-nomination, was not publicly known until now. Had they been known by late 2014 the primary field would have included a progressive Democrat who unlike Sanders would have been taken seriously by the news media. Had these things come out during the primaries, Sanders would be the nominee, despite Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s and the Clinton apparatus’s best efforts.
Instead, we have a Democratic presidential nominee so hamstrung by her own and her husband’s profound disregard for norms of conduct by pre-presidential and presidential contenders, and by their spouses, that she is unable to mention even the identities and backgrounds of the four billionaires who are funding her opponent’s campaign and who are determining his proposed policy agenda and his planned agency heads and court appointees who would carry out this agenda.
What matters now—all that matters now—is getting this candidate over the line, and getting down-ballot Democrats elected. And the way to do that is to focus on the Democratic platform, and on Democratic agency and judicial appointments. And on the Republican platform and Republican agency and judicial appointments. Because Clinton’s belief notwithstanding, the majority—probably the large majority of voters—supports the Democratic agenda and opposes the Republican one.
To wit: The composition of the FCC, and today’s 3-2 vote by the board. It should be noted that FCC Chairman Wheeler originally leaned toward the internet providers on the hot-topic net-neutrality issue last year, but he changed his position after the outcry that ensued. But a Republican chair would have pressed right ahead with the providers’ agenda.
One of the current oddities of political punditry is an effort by a couple of high-profile baby boomer progressive pundits to sell the idea that the fact that Democrats are finally solidifying behind Clinton because, contrary to conventional wisdom, she’s actually been an excellent general election candidate and so voters now like her.
Polls are now showing that largely millennials, including black millennials, and Latinos are now plan o vote for her rather than for a third-party candidate and rather than now vote. And that these polls showing that Democrats in large numbers are now finally saying that they are voting for her not just because her opponent is Trump but because they support her.
Notably missing from these pundits’ analysis, though, is mention of, say, policy positions. Instead, it’s that Clinton hasn’t made any serious gaffs during the general election campaign, and that voters—presumably millennials and Latinos—who harbored hostility toward the idea of a woman president, are now losing that sexist hostility sufficiently to vote for Clinton and like it. Or to vote for her at all. The millennial generation really hated the idea of Elizabeth Warren as president, too. But see? They would have come around two weeks before election day.
What these pundits haven’t noticed, apparently because neither of them can read graphs, or neither of them recalls the Democratic Convention, is that Clinton led by double digits in the polls only during two periods. She led in the aftermath of the Convention—which famously adopted a whole lot of Bernie Sanders’s policy agenda, and at which Clinton touted that platform in her acceptance speech. And she led in the last week, after Sanders and Warren began aggressively campaigning for her, and in which she, finally, is campaigning on the most progressive parts of the platform.
And there actually are pundits—no, not just me; real, professional pundits—who are making that point.
If Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren campaign, say, at college campuses throughout Florida, for Rubio’s opponent Patrick Murphy, who apparently many voters have never heard of but who, according to polls, is running only two to three points behind Rubio, Murphy probably will win. If Bernie and Warren remind voters that they’re choosing or opposing a slew of policies, agency heads and judicial appointments, when they vote for president, Clinton and Murphy and Dem congressional candidates probably will win.
Nothing else—nothing else—should matter to Democratic-leaning voters. But no one should mistake support for the Democratic Party platform and for the agenda of the ascendant progressive wing of the Democratic Party as support for Hillary Clinton in the abstract.