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FCC Chairman Moves To Stop Internet Privacy Plan, Seeking To Match FTC Rules

Deadline logo Deadline 2/24/2017 David Lieberman
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Updated with Clyburn and McSweeny statements: Looks like you can forget about the rules the FCC approved in October to bar Internet providers from monitoring the sites you visit, unless you give permission to do so.

Recently named FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wants to stay the initiative before March 2, and try to match the terms more closely with similar privacy rules the FTC has for content providers. If he can’t arrange for a vote by all of the three current commissioners, then the Wireline Competition Bureau will stay an unspecified part of the change that doesn’t match.

“All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, and the federal government shouldn’t favor one set of companies over another,” a Pai spokesman says.

The chairman wants “a technology-neutral privacy framework for the online world” that would match “the FCC’s privacy rules for broadband providers with the FTC’s standards for others in the digital economy.”

But Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny — the lone Democrats at their agencies — say that Pai has left consumers “without a cop on the beat protecting their personal information from misuse by their broadband service provider.”

McSweeny adds that the rules the FCC adopted in October “conform to long standing FTC practice and provide clear rules on how broadband companies should protect their customers’ personal information.”

Last month industry groups including the NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, the American Cable Association, and the United States Telecom Association asked the FCC to stay the rules.

The FCC plan “will hinder the ability of ISPs to innovate by developing and furnishing new customized offerings and to provide much-needed competition in the highly concentrated online advertising market,” they said.

Former Chairman Tom Wheeler, who left last month, promoted the rules which passed on a party-line vote. He said at the time that the “more our economy and our lives move online, the more information about us goes over our Internet Service Provider (ISP) – and the more consumers want to know how to protect their personal information in the digital age.”

The FCC’s plan would have required cable and phone companies to tell customers what information they collect, how they use it, and the types of entities with whom they share it.

ISPs would have been required to make these disclosures when someone signs up for service, and any time there’s a significant change in policy. It would also have to be available on a website or mobile app.

The rules would have applied to ISPs such as Comcast and Verizon. The FTC sets policies for service providers including Google, Facebook, and Netflix.

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