The Ad Industry Is Really Excited About Plans To Gut Broadband Privacy Protections

from the an-informed,-empowered-consumer-costs-us-money dept

The broadband, advertising and marketing industries are absolutely thrilled about plans to kill the FCC’s new broadband privacy protections for consumers. Passed last year, the rules simply require that ISPs provide working opt-out tools, go to reasonable lengths to protect data and notify users of hack attacks, and be transparent about what data they collect and who they sell to. The rules also require that ISPs obtain opt-in consent (public enemy number one for marketing folks) for the collection and sale of more personal data like financial details or browsing histories.

Given that empowered, informed consumers cost the marketing and broadband industry billions, they’ve been waging a massive campaign to have the rules killed — and they’re about to succeed. New FCC boss Ajit Pai quickly and covertly set about killing the rules’ hacking-related requirements. Meanwhile Senator Jeff Flake and Rep. Marsha Blackburn have gotten quickly to work introducing Congressional Review Act resolutions that would kill the rest of the new rules before they’re even allowed to take effect.

Needless to say, the marketing industry is pretty excited. In a joint statement by numerous ad policy and lobbying groups including the Association of National Advertisers and American Advertising Federation, the ad industry went so far as to try and claim that protecting consumer privacy was somehow “anti-consumer”:

“Without prompt action in Congress or at the FCC, the FCC’s regulations would break with well-accepted and functioning industry practices, chilling innovation and hurting the consumers the regulation was supposed to protect. The Congressional Review Act was designed as a common-sense check on anti-consumer regulations like this, and we are pleased that Senator Flake, Congressman Blackburn, and their colleagues are using it to such positive effect. We strongly urge Congress to support and quickly act on these Joint Resolutions.”

Granted the ad and broadband industries would have you forget why the FCC crafted these “anti-consumer” rules in the first place. They were only pushed after Verizon was caught covertly modifying user wireless packets in order to track users around the internet without telling them. The FCC was similarly motivated by the fact that AT&T and Comcast were starting to show interest in charging users a premium for privacy, and the fact that companies like CableONE were proudly crowing about how they use financial data to provide worse customer service to bad credit customers.

The lack of last mile competition ensures that these companies face no organic, market-based punishment for these behaviors. And now regulatory oversight will be hamstrung as well, much to the joy of large ISPs looking to jump more heavily into the Millennial advertising business.

ISP-loyal lawmakers are selling the push by claiming that eliminating FCC oversight — and leaving privacy in the hands of the FTC only — will result in “more efficient” and “symmetrical” regulations in line with what Google and Facebook face (ignoring the vast, obvious differences in the internet content and broadband industries). That’s something former FCC boss (and dingo) Tom Wheeler called a “fraud,” specifically designed to saddle the already overextended FTC with work ISPs know will fall through the cracks. The EFF was also quick to recently debunk this and other claims over at its website:

“Unfortunately, recent court decisions have limited the FTC?s ability to enforce privacy rules on ISPs. Plus, relying on each state to enforce its own laws to protect privacy would create a terrible patchwork of mismatched regulations. You?d think with all the uncertainty and bureaucracy that would create, the ISPs would actually prefer clear, bright-line rules at the national level. But you?d be wrong: at this point, they?ll say anything to block the FCC?s privacy-protective rules.”

The EFF has penned a second post discussing all of the fun things ISPs have done — and will do — with neither regulators nor free market competition keeping them in line. These efforts are being rushed through under the belief that bigger debates (like the Affordable Care Act) will overshadow how quickly Congress mindlessly rushed to do the bidding of companies like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and Charter. A vote on the repeal of the rules is expected to happen as soon as Thursday, and consumer advocacy groups like Public Knowledge and the EFF are urging concerned citizens to contact their representatives.

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Comments on “The Ad Industry Is Really Excited About Plans To Gut Broadband Privacy Protections”

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40 Comments
Ninja (profile) says:

So to have your privacy you’ll have to shell some extra money to get a VPN and use protective measures like DNSCrypt from OpenDNS (and their own service on DNS queries). The advertisement industry is out of control.

And honestly, to me all advertising via the Internet has become poison. I avoid clicking ads like the plague and I’m actively using all means to prevent as much tracking and advertising as possible (ublock, Noscript, RequestPolicy, you name it). I actively avoid products that are advertised in ways that are intrusive, targeted. Once this becomes the norm and advertising that way becomes toxic to the companies doing it we will slowly come back to sanity.

If they want war, we the public should give them war. And fund EFF to counter-lobby these morons.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“So to have your privacy you’ll have to shell some extra money to get a VPN and use protective measures like DNSCrypt from OpenDNS (and their own service on DNS queries). The advertisement industry is out of control.”

My opinion;

I don’t trust Corporations to adhere to “Privacy Protections” any more than I trust the Government to adhere to the same. Having Government regulation involved gives people a false sense of security. People should already be running these protections. Yes it will cost you a bit, but as much as it sickens me, that is the cost of privacy these days.

Like the Government, the only privacy Corporations value is their own.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“Having Government regulation involved gives people a false sense of security.”

And this is all that will be necessary. People don’t really care, and that is the eternal problem. Perception IS reality for most.

People are just dumb enough to walk through a battlefield if you tell them that there is a law that bullets are not allowed to hit civilians.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Right, but what’s a good way of doing that?

Like, is there a good way of setting up a VPN on my router but configuring it to pass a whitelist of sites through? (I’m running pfSense.) Or, similarly, is there a way to configure one browser to use a VPN and another not to? Because there’s no way I can get my wife to turn off VPN settings every time she wants to watch a video and then turn them back on when she’s done (and TBH I probably wouldn’t remember to do it every time either), but “use Firefox for videos and Chrome for everything else” is probably doable.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Even with encryption, the ad agencies will still know who you are and what banking site you were just communicating with. And the type of transaction based on the URL.

“Ad agency” meaning “anyone willing to pay for that information.”

Scammers already send “please verify your information” emails to random people on behalf of random banks. Getting such vague emails from banks they don’t deal with warns people about the practice. But imagine if the scammers could target their emails knowing who is dealing with what bank and when.

Other personal data is important too. Again, even if pages are encrypted, whoever is buying the data will see the URLs you visited. Say, on the pages on a medical site dealing with specific and embarrassing medical conditions, teen pregnancy, etc.

Imagine a political campaign being able to purchase the browsing history for everyone on the opposing campaign. Even if they didn’t publish that information, it would give them a heads up on embarrassing situations.

Kal Zekdor (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Again, even if pages are encrypted, whoever is buying the data will see the URLs you visited. Say, on the pages on a medical site dealing with specific and embarrassing medical conditions, teen pregnancy, etc.

This is not accurate. Barring a TLS MitM attack, HTTPS URLs are encrypted and not available to your ISP. They will certainly have access to the IP address of the server you’re connecting to, and unless you are using encrypted DNS they’ll have access to the domain, but not the full URL. So, for example, my ISP can tell I’m reading techdirt, but not which article I’m looking at.

It’s feasible to determine the length of a URL from the encrypted data. I’m not sure how problematic that is, but I recall discussions about adding random padding to prevent such things to the TLS spec. Dunno if anything ever came of it.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re:

What? People make financial transactions without use of encryption? That is a very bad idea.

Even with encryption, your ISP knows things like what bank(s), investment sites, and online stores you use, how often you access their sites, and for how long. That’s potentially sensitive information in and of itself, whether or not they actually have access to any account or transaction data.

John Thacker (profile) says:

"Unfortunately, recent court decisions have limited the FTC’s ability to enforce privacy rules on ISPs."

Well, yes, but those recent court decisions were themselves based on the idea that the FCC regulations preempted the FTC. Under Title II, the FCC is a one-stop shop for regulating the Plain Old Telephone System; the FTC has no power over POTS. The FCC under Wheeler proposed not full implementation of Title II (because that would be unworkable) but picking and choosing from elements of Title II to implement or not implement on a case-by-case basis. The ISPs convinced a court that if the FCC was imposing Title II-like privacy regulations on ISPs, then the other prong of Title II making FCC the sole regulator also applied. It’s not a terrible legal argument, even if I’m not convinced. (That it’s an entirely different legal argument than what they tried when arguing against the FCC is simply standard legal advocacy that consumer advocates do as well, arguing the best argument for ever case, even if contradicting oneself from case to case or having to argue in the alternative.)

I’m very open to the idea of either the FTC, the FCC, or both regulating privacy, and reasonably dubious of the court decision, but it’s misleading by the EFF to make such a comment, considering that the decision they understandably criticize would instantly become moot if the FCC regulations were removed. Without the FCC regulations, the FTC would definitely have power to rule on privacy. The only reason that the FTC’s ability was limited was because of the FCC preemption argument.

Anonymous Coward says:

Innovation?

I got a few other ***ation words that come to mind waaay before innovation in regards to the ad industry: exasperation, indignation, infuriation, irritation, vexation, aggravation,and I could go on.

The only innovative thoughts that goes on is trying to combine “innovation” and the ad industry in a positive way in the same sentence.

Nathan F (profile) says:

"The Congressional Review Act was designed as a common-sense check on anti-consumer regulations like this, and we are pleased that Senator Flake, Congressman Blackburn, and their colleagues are using it to such positive effect. We strongly urge Congress to support and quickly act on these Joint Resolutions."

I guess their definition of "Consumer" can be found in the list of signatures at the bottom of the letter, as opposed to, you know, the public at large.

DannyB (profile) says:

The Ad industry

Advertising destroys every medium in which it is used.

Magazines became littered with more ads than content. And newspapers.

Radio was polluted with ads. And network TV. Then came cable TV with the promise of no ads. But ads invaded and cable tv deteriorated into a wasteland of ads. More ads than content. Then right after a commercial there would be more ads of characters walking out on top of the bottom 1/3 of the content to advertise another program over the program being currently watched. These would sometimes obscure important parts of what you were watching. So cord cutting happens.

Internet streaming appears. Then it gets ads. Hulu at least created a higher priced ad-free model. When there was talk of Netflix getting ads, I gave them feedback on how this was a slippery slope. Pointing out what happened with network TV and then cable TV.

Also, the web. At first it was full of information. Then ads appeared. They weren’t too bad at first. They didn’t interfere with your browsing experience. Gradually the ads came to dominate the page. Then each page had one paragraph of content surrounded by bright, loud, animated jumping dancing seizure inducing ads. You would have to click Next to read the next page with one paragraph of content and another page full of flashing ads. Then came ad delivered malware. And ad blockers. Then ad blocker blockers. Next: people actively avoiding ad blocker blockers — forever. Once a site blocks my ad blocker, I never go there again. Even if they stop blocking ad blockers I’ll never know, or care. They don’t have anything valuable enough for me to lower the defenses of my ad blockers.

I should also briefly mention usenet spam followed by email spam. Yes, this is advertising, in all its despicable glory.

Some otherwise beautiful land is visually polluted with miles and miles of billboards. And now billboards have bright light pollution dancing animated ads. That keep neighbors awake at night. And the visual pollution in cities of billboards.

Of course the ad industry is excited about any gutting of privacy protections. These are people who will mandate putting ads on the inside of our eyelids once the technology becomes available. Mark my words. There is no limit to the lengths advertisers will go to.

Just wait until the first low earth orbiting ad billboards. A large “fabric” of many individual pixel elements spaced many feet apart.

Christenson says:

Billions?

My oh my…”Costing the ad industry billions”?

That sentence sticks out like a sore thumb, and brings to mind Oracle complaining about billions in lost revenue in its lawsuit against Google…are you sure that the latest chicanery being allowed isn’t just the latest step in an arms race where the big players get the advantage?

Anonymous Coward says:

Much of the "ad industry" would be Google, right? Google says "you have NO privacy".

And you’ll keep losing it while believe that corporations have any rights at all, that a legal fiction has “free speech” rights to lobby Congress.

Oh, but “we’re trading a little privacy for amazing benefits”. — That the public could have without being spied on: somehow we got along before such massive spying. All advertising should be suppressed: it adds up to non-stop harassment (and businesses do NOT have rights to “free speech”). The particulars that Google collects and stores forever add only tiny theoretical value, YET it’s an effective monopoly raking in billions world-wide. (And growing despite recent stories to the contrary: that’s just more fake news to deflect any political action that should rightly piece up Alphabet. It’s too big.)

And for the semanticists who won’t tackle substance: Oh, but what’s the exact meaning of “monopoly”? — If in the news EVERY day on how affects us, it’s simply got too much power. Piece it up so can’t control us.

On topic: Skip the ads, load faster, and see all text on front page with the “lite” option
https://www.techdirt.com/?_format=lite

Anonymous Coward says:

Much of the "ad industry" would be Google, right? Google says "you have NO privacy".

And you’ll keep losing it while believe that corporations have any rights at all, that a legal fiction has “free speech” rights to lobby Congress.

Oh, but “we’re trading a little privacy for amazing benefits”. — That the public could have without being spied on: somehow we got along before such massive spying. All advertising should be suppressed: it adds up to non-stop harassment (and businesses do NOT have rights to “free speech”). The particulars that Google collects and stores forever add only tiny theoretical value, YET it’s an effective monopoly raking in billions world-wide. (And growing despite recent stories to the contrary: that’s just more fake news to deflect any political action that should rightly piece up Alphabet. It’s too big.)

And for the semanticists who won’t tackle substance: Oh, but what’s the exact meaning of “monopoly”? — If in the news EVERY day on how affects us, it’s simply got too much power. Piece it up so can’t control us.

On topic: Skip the ads, load faster, and see all text on front page with the “lite” option
https://www.techdirt.com/?_format=lite

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re:

The Republicans are just doing the scorched Obama policies that their voters are demanding.

If by "voters" you mean "cable company lobbyists".

I really don’t think very many voters are calling their senators and asking them to let the cable company sell their browsing data without permission, regardless of what political party they belong to.

ECA (profile) says:

REALLY want to suggest something here......

If you were a Gov. and REALLY wanted to TAG everyone..
KNOW as much as you could, and document them and WHERE they are…What they are doing..
1. LET the advert corps do the work..
2. Add camera’s for monitoring things and tagging people..
3. MAKE ID VERY IMPORTANT…Every state MUST prove VALID ID..

We get Pictures of every person, you know where they shop/what they get, ANY purchase needs ID.. Private corp/malls Monitor and can TRACK you..

Anyone on a LIST?? Buy something DIFFERENT…you get looked up and figure out what you are doing..

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: REALLY want to suggest something here......

You are missing one other important thing a governments would have to do to implement that level of surveillance, buy at least half the processors,memory and disks being made. Why do you think some governments are imposing storage time requirements on the likes of ISP’s, they can’t afford to store all the meta data they would like to keep.

Anonymous Coward says:

Choose not to buy the products advertised

I make a point of never purchasing any product that is advertised to me thru a 3rd party. If I am on a website that sells a product, then I may consider it. When I am on a site that has purchased my site history and is shoving ads at me for something I just got done looking at on another site, I wont buy it anymore. Hear that amazon? When I look up something on your site, then you shove an ad in my face on yahoo or elsewhere, I no longer buy that product from you.

Anonymous Coward says:

There’s nothing wrong with advertising on most things. Even websites. You see them everywhere, and for the most part it’s at worst an annoyance. You can ignore it and get on with your day.

In this case, it’s the tracking and privacy invasions that are problems. Imagine in real life, every store you visit; every step you take is tracked. They know where you are, what you looked at, and even why you did or didn’t do something. You’d be outraged.
That’s basically what companies in the US are now applying to the Internet. I won’t rehash how even innocent searches can reveal huge details about a person. That’s why this is so wrong.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

There’s nothing wrong with advertising on most things.

When the adverts become so attentions grabbing and space consuming that they interfere with the real content, they have become a real problem. Further, if you have a service with a data-cap, do you really want 90% of data being served to be adverts when you want to read a news story.

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