Should You Be Allowed To Sell Your Privacy?

Category: Privacy

Is your privacy (your online activities, the websites you visit, your interests and other personal data) for sale? Would you voluntarily give your internet service provider permission to use that information for marketing purposes, in exchange for a discount on your monthly bill? The FCC wants your opinion on this question…

Is Your Privacy For Sale?

The FCC is soliciting public comment on its Notice Of Proposed Rulemaking intended to protect the privacy of Internet users. Among other things, the FCC wants your opinion on these questions:

“We seek comment whether a customer’s approval to use or disclose his or her proprietary information in exchange for financial incentives is meaningful if customers’ broadband choices are limited by lack of competition, switching costs, or financial hardship. Does simply offering such practices violate providers’ baseline duty under Section 222(a) to protect the confidentiality of customers’ proprietary information? Should Broadband Internet Access Service providers be prohibited from engaging in such practices?”

In other words, should ISPs be allowed to offer discounts or other valuable considerations in exchange for your permission to use your browsing history and other personal data for marketing/advertising purposes?

FCC Telco data privacy ruling

Alternatively, one might ask, “Should I be allowed (by the FCC) to sell my privacy?” Phrased that way, most people will say, “Sure, I should be allowed to sell any of my property.” But as with anything involving regulation of Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, et. al., it’s not that simple.

The FCC, in its 317-page NPRM, proposes to extend the same privacy protections now applicable to telephonic communications to the vaster realm of Internet communications. The three basic principles of that protection, the Commission notes, are transparency, choice, and data security.

Transparency is only satisfied when a customer must affirmatively opt-in to permitting an ISP to exploit his data, presumably after fully understanding what he’s giving up and getting for it, and what consequences he can expect. The Commission wonders if “choice” is meaningful “ if customers’ broadband choices are limited by lack of competition, switching costs, or financial hardship.”

The Telcos Weigh In

Surprisingly, the FCC currently has no rules for ISPs concerning how they protect customers’ data from theft or destruction; historically, State laws and the Federal Trade Commission have been active in these areas. The proposed rules would bring federal consistency to an interstate market, and tailor rules to the Internet specifically.

Comcast filed a brief opposing the proposed ban on “financial inducements” to secure a consumer’s consent to harvest and profit off his personal data. The company’s lawyer noted in his brief, "The (Communications) Act does not authorize the FCC to determine whether the customer is actually making a good choice." The company met with FCC officials and "urged that the Commission allow business models offering discounts or other value to consumers in exchange for allowing ISPs to use their data,” according to Comcast’s filing on that meeting.

AT&T already offers a “cash for data” plan. If you check that little “opt-in” box permitting the company to exploit your data, you get a $29 monthly discount off the cost of 1Gbps fiber-to-the-home service. With that discount, 1Gbps fiber services is only $70/month. But if you want to keep your privacy, the same service costs at least $99/month. Why? No reason, except to get you to part with your data.

Google Fiber, where it’s been introduced cost $70/month for 1Gbps service. The City of Longmont, Colorado, which doesn’t have to turn a profit for shareholders, charges only $50/month for gigabit fiber service.

A False Choice?

In other words, AT&T’s so-called “discount” is nothing of the sort. Company marketing execs just said, “What’s the most we can get away with charging - $70? OK, add $29 to that and call it the ‘regular price, then offer the rubes a discount.”

The proposed rule would protect gullible consumers from that phony offer. It would force ISPs to actually compete - work hard at things like reliability and customer service - instead of buying customers with illusory “financial inducements.”

You might be offended that the FCC thinks you are unable to make a decision about getting a discount in exchange for the rights to your browsing history. But perhaps you need that protection just as much as your dimwit brother-in-law. Intelligence regularly succumbs to greed.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Should You Be Allowed To Sell Your Privacy?"

Posted by:

Jay R
12 Aug 2016

I will gladly leave a one time comment for a payment of $19.99. Thank you for allowing me to make this very generous offer to you.

Posted by:

Jay R
12 Aug 2016

BTW- I just upgraded to the latest Firefox and the new FF wouldn't let send my comment to your site because of some expired certificate. I created an exception.

Posted by:

Mike Hamilton
12 Aug 2016

Wow! With so much information already in circulation, what difference would it make? And I agree with your statement about "illusory discounts."

I forget which one, but some years ago one of the big dogs in Silicon Valley said "It's not your data; it's data about you," and advised giving up all hope of protecting it.

I would love to see the FCC do something to encourage competition between service providers, but I don't have much hope.

Posted by:

Top Squirrel
12 Aug 2016

Would you kindly give us an address to send email to within the FCC to express our opinions about this issue?

Posted by:

12 Aug 2016

Bob, I get same problem as JayR with Firefox 48.0 and also Android Silk browser.
I get the message, "The owner of has configured their website improperly. To protect your information from being stolen, Firefox has not connected to this website."
I clicked on [Advanced] and got the message:
" uses an invalid security certificate.
The certificate expired on Thursday, August 11, 2016 7:59 PM. The current time is Friday, August 12, 2016 2:21 PM.

I checked "Report errors like this to help Mozill..."
Then clicked [Add Exception]
I was then presented with: "If you're seeing this page, you probably have Javascript turned OFF in your browser. Javascript is required in order to post a comment. To turn it back ON, do the following:
For Firefox:
On the browser Menu, click Tools, then Options
Click the Content tab
Check the box next to Enable JavaScript
Press OK to confirm "

Problem: When I check Options > Content there is NO box or text "Enable JavaScript".
I then hit the Back button as directed and was allowed to post this. Whew!

Please Bob, update the damn certificate.

Posted by:

Wild Bill
12 Aug 2016

I find the $70 figure interesting, as an upper limit, as Lightspeed has been running fiber in our area and $70 is the intro Gigabit/sec rate.
God bless the market for triumphing over greed, eh? Actually, its serious competition in our area, where $50-$60 typically gets you 15-20 Mb/s

Posted by:

12 Aug 2016

As Scott McNealy (the founder and CEO of Sun Microsystems) said many years ago:

"You already have zero privacy - get over it."

Posted by:

12 Aug 2016

How is it the FCC doesn't have the same disrespect for our privacy as the FBI, NSA, CIA, and other government agencies?

Posted by:

12 Aug 2016

Maybe sign up for the discount but use HTTPS, Proxy Server Service such as TOR and VPN.

Posted by:

15 Aug 2016

If the FCC officially permits this, it will not be too long before opt out people will not be able to afford to opt out. I can easily imagine a $30 service if you give and let them use your information, and a $250 cost for the same service without such permission.

Posted by:

15 Aug 2016

Unfortunately, the comment period closed in June. They are probably now analyzing the comments and preparing a final rule. That usually takes 6 months to a year (or more). The real public (i.e., private citizens) has little influence. Most influence is wielded by business (they have the budget and interest in paying attention) with some influence by advocacy groups. (I was a fed and involved with the public comment process)

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