Privacy Coalition Urges FCC to Regulate Broadband Providers Data Collection Practices

by Matt Klassen on January 21, 2016

info protectionMore than 50 consumer and privacy rights organizations have submitted a letter to the Federal Communications Commission, urging for sweeping rules to protect the privacy of Internet users by curbing the ability of telecom companies and ISPs to harvest massive amounts of data on its customer base without explicit consent.

The coalition wants providers of broadband Internet service, including mobile and landline phone providers and cable and satellite television firms, to curb their unfettered data collection practices and tighten the security they provide for their customers, making privacy protection a priority instead of data mining.

“As the role of the Internet in the daily lives of consumers increases, this means an increased potential for surveillance,” said the letter to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, according to Reuters report, and signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog Electronic Frontier Foundation, Public Citizen and 54 other groups.

But laudable as it may be, the broadband industry considers such cries for increased privacy as short-sighted and unnecessary, given that the entire future of our connected everything existence, including advances in intuitive smartphone technology and the comprehensive Internet of Things, rests on such data collection, and in order for such technology to truly serve its human masters, there’s no way users want to be disturbed every time data is needed for those devices to actually do something to help us.

To put things another way, the foundation of the Internet of Things is that our entire technological existence will be wirelessly connected, working behind the scenes to manage the minutia of our lives. It’s the “behind the scenes” part that the broadband industry is working to provide, and likely something that users actually want, except that in order to deliver it massive amounts of data are needed.

That’s not to say that I’m on the side of the broadband industry, far from it in fact, particularly given their irresponsible data collection practices, but only that the general public is beginning to clamour both for the arrival of this connected everything existence and the maintenance of their privacy, but they can’t have it both ways.

At the heart of the complaint made by this consumer rights coalition, however, is not arguing against data collecting per se, but simply arguing for transparency in the process. “What tracking is going on now and how the info is being used is in most cases not readily apparent,” argued Susan Grant of the Consumer Federation of America, one of the letter’s co-signers. Grant cites the recent controversy surrounding Verizon’s deployment of its so-called “super cookie” smartphone tracking system, which captured massive amounts of data in its indiscriminate dragnet and offered no way for smartphone users to opt out of being tracked.

Now I will say that arguing for consumer approval is certainly a worthwhile endeavour, but again, who are we fooling here? Even if the FCC concedes to the demands of this letter, all that will happen is that consumers will be faced with a massive privacy document filled with legalspeak that no one understands or has the time to read, resulting in a quick click on the ‘Agree’ button and broadband providers are back doing whatever they want to do.

All that to say, regulations regarding user privacy are essential, but the more they involve the actual users, the more pointless they’ll be, particularly given that users likely don’t want to give up the services that such data collection make possible, knowing only that it feels creepy when they think about their broadband provider watching them over their shoulders.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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