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Policy / DCN perspectives on policy, law, and legislative news surrounding digital content

Perspective of premium publishers: privacy rules for broadband providers

February 27, 2016 | By Chris Pedigo, SVP Government Affairs – DCN@Pedigo_ChrisConnect on

On Friday, February 26, Jason Kint, CEO of DCN, wrote to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler to lay out the perspective of premium publishers with regard to their upcoming privacy rules for broadband providers.  The letter urges the FCC to require broadband providers to provide consumers with transparency and meaningful choice with regard to the collection and use of personal information especially when this data will be used for purposes that fall outside of a consumer’s expectation and outside of the context of the interaction where the data was collected.

For example, a reasonable consumer would expect a mobile broadband provider to collect data about how a consumer uses their mobile device so the company could make improvements to the broadband service or ensure efficient management of the network.  However, consumers would not expect (or even know) if a mobile broadband provider was using this same set of data to tailor advertising to consumers on websites or apps.

As several news outlets reported, at least one mobile broadband provider was inserting a unique identification header every time a consumer’s mobile browser fetched content from a website.  This header was used by advertising partners of the mobile broadband provider to identify individual consumers, track their online behavior and target advertising based on that behavior.  However, neither the mobile broadband providers nor their partners meaningfully disclosed to consumers’ information about this activity or the ability to opt out.  In addition, it was later discovered that the header was being used without the knowledge of the broadband provider by some of their advertising partners to respawn cookies that a consumer had deleted – effectively reversing a consumer’s choice for privacy.

Consumers have different expectations with regard to 1st party, direct relationships versus other types of transactions which are indirect and out of context.  The FCC’s privacy rules should account for the differences in these relationships.  As our letter points out, greater transparency and choice will help rebuild consumer trust and help the digital economy reach its full potential.