Newly appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai moved to halt a key portion of the Obama administration’s internet privacy rules on Friday, asking the commission to block the rollout of broadband-specific mandates.
In October, the FCC voted to approve rules that would subject broadband internet providers to stricter privacy requirements than websites. Under the rules, providers would be required to get a customer’s consent before accessing information on their location, children, or web history. It would also allow consumers to opt out of having these companies collect less sensitive data, such as their email address.
Under the Federal Trade Commission, websites such as Google and Facebook are only required to get consumers’ consent to use certain sensitive data such as financial information for marketing purposes.
Pai on Friday moved to block a portion of the FCC rules focused on how providers protect the data they collect from consumers, saying that the rules are unfairly harsher for providers than for websites. The rule would have gone into effect on March 2.
“All actors in the online space should be subject to the same rules, and the federal government shouldn’t favor one set of companies over another,” FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield said in a press release.
When the FCC initially voted on these rules last year, Tom Wheeler, the former chairman, argued internet service providers should be subject to stricter privacy rules because they function differently than websites. For one, Wheeler said, providers have access to much more data than websites do because they handle all network traffic.
“Most of us understand that the social media we join and the websites we visit collect our personal information, and use it for advertising purposes,” Wheeler said in a proposal for the rules. “Seldom, however, do we stop to realize that our ISP is also collecting information about us. What’s more, we can choose not to visit a website or not to sign up for a social network, or we can choose to drop one and switch to another in milliseconds. But broadband service is different. Once we subscribe to an ISP—for our home or for our smartphone—most of us have little flexibility to change our mind or avoid that network rapidly.”
Companies such as Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile have petitioned the FCC to roll back these privacy rules, arguing that they give websites an advantage over internet service providers. Pai himself has been an active critic of net neutrality, and has said multiple times that he will reevaluate the rules.
FTC Commissioner Terrell McSweeny issued a statement Friday criticizing Pai’s motion.
“What this means, in effect, is that consumers with a broadband subscription will be less protected because the only cop on the beat has been taken off their patrol,” Sweeny said. “In an age of Internet connected everything, removing security requirements from broadband providers is needlessly dangerous for American consumers.”