If you follow me on Twitter @cjones, you know I have an ongoing series of tweets that start with, “Yet another reason we need more technologists in DC.” What follows that opening phrase is typically a broad policy development issue that would be aided by having a technologist’s perspective in the discussion. The recent congressional action on Internet privacy is one such issue.
Since consumer privacy cannot be fleshed out in 140 characters, here are some things to consider. First, privacy is important, even if you have nothing to hide. And, giving Internet users a clear understanding of who is collecting their information, and how it’s being used, its essential to the ongoing security and stability of the Internet, which is based, in part, on consumer confidence and trust.
The broadband privacy regulation recently attempted by the Federal Communications, Commission (FCC) proposed to create a new privacy regime, separate from and conflicting with the one enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which has been in place for the entire life of the Internet. The FCC’s proposal created a second tier of rules that were only applicable to Internet Service Providers, while leaving Google, and other companies that mine your data for profit, without the same restraints. That is a problem.
This dual system would have meant that users had differing protections depending which net platform they visited. Even the most sophisticated users could, and probably would, believe their information was protected under one set of rules where, in reality, the other set of rules applied. Bad actors rely on misleading consumers and the uncertainty caused by the FCC plan would have been a boon to criminals and would have empowered them to exploit the gaps between the separate enforcement systems.
Protecting consumers from these harms is reason enough to support Congress’ rejection of the FCC proposal, but consumers also stand to gain enhanced privacy protections as a result. The FTC and the FCC have now pledged to work together to develop one set of rules for all areas of the Internet. Consumers will receive the same protections whether they are texting, watching television, or playing the latest mobile game.
In rejecting the FCC rule, Congress took a positive first step toward enhancing privacy and returning our country to the entrepreneurial freedom which has existed on the Internet over the past quarter century. But instead of thanking them, partisan voices have been spreading misinformation saying that Congress “voted to repeal Internet privacy” and claiming that users’ personal browsing history is “now up for sale.”
Other than the words “Congress voted,” none of their taunts hold up to scrutiny. Congress’ rejection of a proposed FCC rule simply means that we continue under the privacy rights we’ve always had — the same privacy protections that consumers have embraced to make the Internet the thriving marketplace it is today.
As an Arizonan, I encourage our congressional delegation to continue to stop a bad regulations before they harm consumers. As an Internet user and entrepreneur, I’m hopeful that the regulatory agencies received the message that privacy is important and real privacy protections respect net citizens’ demands that the rules apply equally to all corners of the Internet.
|Christine Jones is the former EVP and General Counsel for GoDaddy.com. She is a philanthropist, entrepreneur, and occasional republican candidate.|