Monday, February 27, 2017

FCC Chairman Pai’s Alternate Facts Part 3, Privacy "Protection" for Broadband Consumers

            FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has opposed broadband consumer privacy protection safeguards largely based on a false dichotomy: that Internet content providers, like evil Google and Facebook could collect, process and exploit consumer usage data, while ISPs could not. See
Dissenting Statement of Commissioner Ajit Pai, Re: Protecting the Privacy of Customers of Broadband and other Telecommunications Services, WC Docket No. 16-106.https://apps.fcc.gov/edocs_public/attachmatch/FCC-16-39A5.pdf.

            This is a false dichotomy, because consumers willingly opt to barter their usage data in exchange for “free” advertiser supported content access, while broadband subscribers will have to allow such surveillance and sales of usage data as a hidden or obscure cost of service.

            Even though Internet content consumers cannot negotiate with providers and have to accept “take it or leave it terms,” Chairman Pai might perceive a viable marketplace.  Consumers willingly give up privacy protection, because they don’t know what they have to give up, they consider it a fair trade, or they trust Federal Trade Commission safeguards to provide adequate protection. 

            On the matter of FTC protection, Chairman Pai deems an “eviction” the process by which the FCC proposed rules would replace general, FTC privacy safeguards.  He conveniently forgets that the FTC has no jurisdiction to impose rules on common carriers, the regulatory status still applicable to ISPs.  Even if the Pai FCC re-reclassifies Internet access as private carriage, I don’t think it’s a given that the FTC and its apparently acceptable rules to Chairman Pai would seamlessly and quickly come into play.

            More fundamentally Chairman Pai appears to treat conduit function and content as able to operate in nearly identical bartering marketplaces.  I respectfully disagree.  It’s one thing to refrain from using Facebook and even Google’s search function, because one cannot accept the privacy invasions, dossier construction, data mining, and revenue accrual from advertising auctions used by Internet content providers to finance their services.  It’s quite another matter to opt out of wireless telecommunications services, because carriers can do the same things and perhaps even more, based on the location determination, call and IP address recording and other surveillance/network management functions.

            Simply put, wireless voice and data subscribers should not have to abandon any and all privacy protections for the “privilege” of becoming a consumer.  If consumers learn that Chairman Pai is working sleepless afternoon to sanction unlimited trading of wireless consumer data, common carrier safeguards will look increasingly essential.

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