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FCC Unveils Internet Privacy Proposal

This story originally appeared on Reuters

The head of the U.S. communications regulator released a long-awaited proposal on Thursday to protect consumers' Internet privacy, but it would not bar any data collection practices.

REUTERS | Yuri Gripas
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler gestures at the FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington.

The plan would require broadband providers to obtain consumer consent, disclose data collection, protect personal information and report breaches. Broadband providers currently collect consumer data without consent and some use that data for targeted advertising, which has drawn criticism from privacy advocates.

The proposal submitted by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Tom Wheeler does not prohibit Internet providers from using or sharing customer data, for any purpose. The FCC would not extend the broadband provider privacy rules to sites such as Twitter, Google or Facebook.

A coalition of groups including the American Civil Liberties Union and Center for Digital Democracy has urged the FCC to write sweeping privacy protections for broadband users in the United States.

Jeffrey Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, praised the proposal as "a major step forward for the United States, which has lagged behind other countries when it comes to protecting consumer privacy rights."

The FCC has new authority to set privacy rules after it reclassified broadband providers last year as part of new net neutrality regulations. A federal appeals court has not ruled on a court challenge to that decision.

Wheeler's proposal will go to a vote by the commission during its March 31 meeting. A final vote on new regulations would follow a public comment period during which the FCC is asking for possible "additional or alternative paths to achieve pro-consumer, pro-privacy goals."

In some cases, broadband providers would be required to get consumers to "opt in." Providers would need to tell consumers what information is being collected, how it is being used, and when it will be shared.

Providers would also be required protect data under a data security standard. Consumers would need to be notified of breaches of their data no later than 10 days after it was discovered.

The proposal summary said consumers "shouldn’t have to sign away their right to privacy." Broadband providers can use consumers Internet traffic to "piece together enormous amounts of information about their customers – including private information such as a chronic medical condition or financial problems."

On Monday, Verizon Communications Inc agreed to pay $1.35 million to settle an FCC privacy probe after it admitted it inserted unique tracking codes in its users' Internet traffic for advertising known as 'supercookies' without getting their consent or allowing them to opt out.

AT&T Senior Vice President Bob Quinn said in a blog post on Wednesday that the FCC is holding broadband providers to a different standard than companies such as Apple Inc and Alphabet Inc's Google unit.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Grant McCool)