FCC Refuses To Force Websites To Adhere To 'Do Not Track,' And That's A Good Thing

from the plate's-already-full dept

If you've followed the saga of "Do Not Track," you know it began with good intentions, labored under squabbling and marketing industry sabotage, and is now seen by some as too little too late in the face of far more sophisticated new snoopvertising technologies. Knowing that many companies will never honor Do Not Track requests voluntarily, Consumer Watchdog had filed a petition (pdf) with the FCC to "initiate a rulemaking proceeding requiring 'edge providers' (like Google, Facebook, YouTube, Pandora, Netflix, and LinkedIn) to honor 'Do Not Track' Requests from consumers."

In short, the faux consumer advocacy group (which is famous for taking extreme positions that would likely do more harm to consumers than help them) wanted the FCC to lean on Title I and Section 706 authority to regulate "information services," forcing content companies to honor DNT requests. While the FCC is planning to begin proceedings examining new privacy policies for broadband companies in the next few months, the group argued this wouldn't be enough to protect consumers from invasive snoopvertising:
"Many consumers are as concerned -- or perhaps even more worried -- about the online tracking and data collection practices of edge providers... edge providers collect the same sensitive personal information that broadband Internet access service providers collect, and that the Commission is committed to protecting. If the Commission does not act to regulate the collection of personal information by edge providers, the Commission will in effect be granting a regulatory advantage to the edge providers, implicating concerns of market distortions."
But the FCC is having none of it. The agency dismissed (pdf) Consumer Watchdog's request, stating that it "has been unequivocal in declaring that it has no intent to regulate edge providers." And indeed, the FCC already has its hands full; it's fighting off ISP lawyers trying to dismantle net neutrality and Title II reclassification, battling ISP-beholden states unhappy with the agency's attack on protectionist broadband state law, and is about to go to war with ISPs on privacy. That's a pretty full plate, with the FCC likely lacking the bandwidth for making any more "friends" at the moment.

And while some telecom industry sockpuppets will surely insist this is a double standard, the FCC's decision may not be a bad thing. The EFF argues the FCC made the "right call, for now," pointing out that consumers can choose not to use Google or Facebook, a luxury they don't enjoy when being held captive by the uncompetitive broadband last mile:
"Why the distinction between websites and ISPs? Because ISPs occupy a much more privileged position on the network. They carry all of a user’s traffic. That gives them the power to act as gatekeepers, deciding what sorts of traffic users can send and receive. It also gives them the opportunity to modify user traffic, adding privacy-destroying tags like Verizon’s UIDH super-cookie.

Edge providers, on the other hand, don’t have quite as much power. It’s a lot easier for users to “vote with their feet” and use a different edge provider for search, social networking, blogging, etc., than it is to change ISPs. Users also have more control over what information they send to edge providers -- that’s why tracker blockers like Privacy Badger work. And of course, there’s the matter of jurisdiction; while ISPs operate in specific geographical areas, websites are accessible (and hosted) all over the world, which would raise all sorts of terrible jurisdictional issues."
In other words, enforcement would be impossible even if the FCC had decided to regulate websites and stumble into the Do Not Track mess. It's a fairly restrained decision for an agency consistently accused of being power mad, and the right call for a regulator that will need every spare calorie for its mammoth battle against the broadband industry duopoly.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2015 @ 10:57am

    Let the little people mess with "Do Not Track"

    noscrip and request-policy for the players.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Brian (profile), 16 Nov 2015 @ 11:03am

    "...consumers can choose not to use Google or Facebook"

    I disagree. While we can explicitly not use their "direct" services, like going to Facebook.com, it's harder to not use their "indirect" services where many 3rd-party websites implement their code (ads, Google Analytics, FB Comments, etc).

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2015 @ 11:20am

      Re:

      nonsense, let the pseudo intellectuals keep fooling everybody into thinking they have a choice on anything.

      The system is rigged... it is rigged like a muther fucker!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2015 @ 11:26am

      Re:

      That is very true today. Alphabet and Facebook are both using legal ways for getting third parties to accept their collection of data to a subsidiary company in their chain.

      While there are perfectly legitimate reasons to collect data and also to help third parties in their harvest, you have to wonder where the interest in more data stops for search providers and social networks.

      Search providers want to know all pages they link to and how they are used, as well as surfing habits, to improve their search and advertisement targeting. Social networks want to know as much about the people on the network for improving the personal experience and advertisement targeting.

      As long as these interests exist, you should probably use The Onion Router and/or classic protection. Many companies, who typically fight against surveillance interference have an economic interest in avoiding encryption and DNT-measures.

      That the encryption ban never gained enough traction was showing the politicians that the lobbyists they rely on for "internet stuff" aren't as powerful as the politicians thought and they are struggling to find the lobbyists with deep enough pockets to consistently represent the peoples opinions on internet-related stuff in lawmaking.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Karl Bode (profile), 17 Nov 2015 @ 6:12am

      Re:

      But there again we have far more control over website privacy than ISP privacy. You can use something like Ghostery to dodge some services. Much harder to block your ISP from deep packet inspection.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    John Fenderson (profile), 16 Nov 2015 @ 1:38pm

    Wrong argument

    Why the distinction between websites and ISPs? Because ISPs occupy a much more privileged position on the network.


    That's not, or shouldn't be, the argument. It's not wrong, but it leaves out a critical distinction that the major telecoms are trying their hardest to get everyone to ignore. ISPs and content providers are radically different businesses. The rules governing each have to be radically different as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Bengie, 16 Nov 2015 @ 4:12pm

    Difference

    There is a difference between and ISP injecting cookies and web servers tracking clients based on information freely provided by web clients.

    If we want to stop tracking, we need a technical way to stop it, not a political way.

    I also have ethical issues with telling people what they can or cannot do with freely available information that the customer freely gives.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Nov 2015 @ 4:39pm

    Hilarious that this article appears on the same page as one bitching about "the surveillance state". oh Techdirt, you never disappoint.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Nov 2015 @ 4:39am

    "If your point is that there's a contradiction you should explain it, because I'm not seeing it."

    Then you're a complete fucking idiot.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Nov 2015 @ 4:49pm

    Asking websites to not track me is like asking the NSA to not spy on me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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