Consumer privacy is more important than net neutrality

Greg Nash

Bits over bodies.   

For some, the net neutrality notion that “all bits are created equal” now practically reigns supreme over any other communications policy or consumer concern, including consumer privacy. 

{mosads}That was the core flaw of the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order, net neutrality policy, and broadband privacy order.


The previous FCC’s upside-down priorities of putting the neutrality interests of technologies and edge platforms, above the interests of American consumers, is the essence of why the FCC’s October broadband privacy order is likely to be overturned soon by the Senate and the House under the Congressional Review Act.

The FCC would not have had need of a broadband privacy order at all, had the previous FCC majority not prioritized net neutrality — a term, concept and principle found nowhere in statute — as so important that it warranted the strongest possible Title II monopoly regulations of competitive ISPs.   

None of the FCC or Federal Trade Commission’s jurisdictional problems that many are talking about in this CRA process would even exist if the FCC had not reclassified broadband as a telecommunications service and triggered the FTC common carrier exemption.

The most embarrassing part of the FCC’s broadband privacy order is that it does not really protect consumers’ privacy at all.

That’s because the specific information that the previous FCC has deemed private for consumers is only private and protected when it involves ISPs, but not when that exact same private data is routinely collected, used, and monetized, by any of the literally hundreds of other entities in the Internet ecosystem that have access to much of that same private information on any given day.

Would any voter on the street consider that their privacy is protected by the FCC, if they were told that every type of business, except ISPs, could commercially use the information that they expected the FCC would keep private? No.

The FCC broadband order was a step backward for consumer privacy.

It broke what was working, in de facto firing the FTC and self-servingly replacing the FTC’s uniform privacy policy, with two FTC and FCC warring privacy policies, that have different purposes, different jurisdictions, and very different approaches to protecting privacy – i.e. opt-out vs. opt-in.

Sadly, this FCC broadband privacy order is not the only example of the FCC subordinating consumer privacy to net neutrality over the last couple of years.

When former Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler floated the notion of classifying OTT video providers as some form of multichannel video programming distributors, to give them the benefit of program access to all the top pay TV programming, the OTT companies — Google-YouTube, Facebook, Amazon and Netflix  said no in large part because they did not want to abide by the FCC’s consumer video privacy rules.

And when the previous FCC proposed set-top box rules last year, those proposed rules did not apply the same consumer video privacy rules to edge providers that were required of traditional set-top box providers.

In sum, the FCC has made a big mess of consumer privacy by prioritizing bits over bodies, and the interests of technology and edge platforms over the interests of American consumers. 

Net neutrality shouldn’t be more important than consumer privacy protection.

Bodies over bits.

Scott Cleland served as deputy U.S. coordinator for international communications and information policy in the George H. W. Bush administration. He is president of Precursor LLC, an internetization consultancy for Fortune 500 companies, and chairman of NetCompetition, a pro-competition e-forum supported by broadband interests.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags FCC FTC Scott Cleland

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