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Look before you leap to conclusions on data privacy

Is all of this hysteria a case of big bad business or just another tale of boring government regulatory oversight?


We live in a frenzied world where headlines whizz by our screens at an incredible rate. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep up on the top news of the day much less dive in and learn more about what’s really happening.

One item that I keep hearing a lot of buzz about is the recent Congressional resolution about Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and consumer data privacy.  Congress voted to nullify Federal Communications Commission broadband privacy rules that had not gone into effect yet.  

Because I listen, learn and talk a lot about future-focused technology like the Internet of Things, Big + Open Data and connectivity, I decided to investigate the core issues behind the decision and sought out the experts on these issues. What I read was a lot different, but not nearly as sensational, as the alarmist headlines. 

In an opinion published in the Washington Post, FCC Chairman Pai and acting chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Maureen Ohlhausen write:

“Let’s set the record straight: First, despite hyperventilating headlines, Internet service providers have never planned to sell your individual browsing history to third parties. That’s simply not how online advertising works. And doing so would violate ISPs’ privacy promises. Second, Congress’s decision last week didn’t remove existing privacy protections; it simply cleared the way for us to work together to reinstate a rational and effective system for protecting consumer privacy.”

Critics of the Congressional resolution are positioning ISPs as big bad corporate entities that want to monitor, manipulate and monetize consumer data.  Oddly, in all of this fervor, we’re not hearing much outrage about what happens every time we visit a web site on Google, use a mobile app like Waze or activate a digital assistant like Alexa from Amazon. Our information is gathered by Google, Waze and Amazon and the value of our data is what makes these technologies available at low or no cost. And we opt in to that agreement every time we use them, whether we realize it or not. 

The FCC rules that Congress rolled back would not have applied to websites, search engines or social media platforms.  The rules would have split the privacy arena with different rules for different types of companies and oversight by different federal agencies.  In other words, the rules would have created a regulatory nightmare and consumer confusion but would not have advanced privacy protection.  In short, since the rules in question had never gone into effect, nothing really changed.  As Chairmen Pai and Ohlhausen wrote, robust protections for consumer privacy remain intact and in place.

So what’s all of the fuss about? I’ve spent enough time around government agencies to know that mundane minutia of regulations and regulatory jurisdiction is enough to put people to sleep. I’ve also seen how corporate entities advance their marketplace agendas by taking advantage of how difficult it is for regular people to get the facts in situations like this.

So who do you believe? The onus really is on us – the consumers – to understand the facts and not to give way to the sensationalism that makes us react, get angry and feel powerless. We have enough to get excited about, and plenty to pay attention to in this quickly evolving world. I think we can all relax on this one.  

Categories Blog, TEP Focus | Tags: | Posted on April 12, 2017