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Protecting your privacy.

Byline: The Register-Guard

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has a refreshingly simple take on the subject of Internet privacy: "When consumers sign up for Internet service, they shouldn't have to sign away their right to privacy."

As FCC chairman Tom Wheeler notes, consumers hand over personal information every day just by going online. Internet service providers collect this information - including what customers search for, what websites they visit, what applications they use, what purchases they make and, in the case of mobile devices, even their physical location. Even if data is encrypted, the Internet service provider still knows not only what sites its customers visit, but how often, and how much time they spend on each of them.

In short, your Internet provider probably knows more about you than your best friend. And, unlike your best friend (hopefully), your Internet provider is only too happy to sell this information to others, including advertisers.

While there have been strict privacy rules in place for decades for telephone companies, similarly tough rules do not exist for Internet providers. Wheeler, who may be in the running for the title of this year's Best Friend to Consumers, says that is wrong. He has submitted a three-part proposal to the full commission, to be discussed later this month, that would give consumers the right to control how their personal information is used and shared by their Internet provider.

Wheeler said consumers should be provided with clear, easily understood disclosures about what information about them is being collected, how it's being used, and under what circumstances it will be shared with others.

Internet service providers would be allowed to use the data for purposes such as billing and, unless a customer opts out, marketing other services to its customers, such as service upgrades.

But Internet providers would not be allowed to sell or share the information with a third party unless the customer has specifically told them they could.

Wheeler also wants to make consumer data handled by Internet providers more secure, requiring broadband providers to have extensive security protections in place and to notify customers within 10 days if a data breach is discovered.

Some tech companies are objecting to Wheeler's proposals, arguing that the Federal Trade Commission has rules in place already and that it's not fair to regulate Internet service providers differently than such online companies as Google and Facebook, who make billions each year from selling users' information to advertisers.

But the existing FTC protections are far weaker than what Wheeler is proposing, and there is a big difference between paying for an Internet service and chatting for free on Facebook.

The Internet has become a requirement for many jobs, as well as a powerful tool for everything from seeking medical information to banking and paying bills, communicating with friends, shopping, and booking vacations.

Massive amounts of personal information are shared daily online. Many consumers are not aware that when they pay for Internet service, they are also giving their provider the right to sell information customers divulge whenever they go online.

Wheeler's proposal is a recognition that the Internet has gone from an accessory to a necessity, and that it needs to be regulated accordingly, including protecting consumers' information.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Mar 18, 2016
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