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Trump remembers to sign: out go Obama’s online privacy rules


via Flickr © perspec_photo88 CC BY-SA 2.0)

  • Trump signs off on privacy rules repeal in the US
  • Now no FCC rules pertaining to data privacy online
  • But does that mean ISPs should put customer data up for sale?

Last time Trump was supposed to sign something into law he, apparently more bewildered than usual, forgot the signing part and wandered off:  “Exit, stage right,” Snagglepussy might have muttered to himself as he headed for the door.

Yesterday, no such luck.  Despite urgings from the likes of Al Franken and another 46 US Senate Democrats for Trump to veto the bill, he found his pen, remembered his name and signed off on the congressional repeal of the online privacy rules initiated by Obama but yet to come into force.

Those rules would have limited the ability of ISPs to share or sell customer data such as browsing histories. It would have required them to get consumers' opt-in consent before any form of storing, selling or sharing of private and personal information could be performed. The requirement for users to ‘opt in’ would have kicked in by December this year.

The attempt by the congressional Democrats to get Trump to veto on Sunday wasn’t quite the futile gesture it might have at first appeared.  Public opinion in the US seems to be right behind Internet privacy and Trump, ever the populist, might just about have been persuaded of the merits of the privacy case. In the event he wasn’t and the usual public interest advocates were shrill in their denunciation  -  pronouncing the end of privacy and the end of the open Internet as we knew it.

On the other hand the advocates for repeal, including FCC chairman Pai, point out that there are already rules on privacy and these are applied by the Federal Trade Commission in the US. Why should a more stringent set of ‘opt in’ rules apply to ISPs but not to their arch-competitors, Google, Facebook and so on?

Because, say privacy proponents, ISPs are essentially monopoly gatekeepers. Users have the ability swerve around Google or Facebook by simply not using their services;  they have no such easy choices when contracted to an ISP who might be the only fixed broadband provider available to them. The stricter regulation is because of their monopoly positions, not a result of ab unfair playing field tilt, as often alleged.

But any such rule-change always represents an opportunity for someone. As Dell’s Tord Nilsson and myself point out in our latest joint blog on TelecomTV, there might be an occasional regulatory reversal when it comes to Internet privacy, but the direction of travel is clear. Users want to have their privacy respected and, most important of all, their data protected online. They want control.  

So while there may be the odd setback (like the roll-back of the Obama regulations) over the longer term there will be more privacy requirements and more privacy regulation as sectors such as IoT build up and data breaches proliferate (as they will). Instead of holding out against that tide (and earning a rotten reputation in the process) telco ISPs might be better to get out ahead and build a solid reputation for protecting their users’ data and providing strict opt-in. In other words build a profile as custodians of their customers’ data, not resellers.  We outline the case for going gangbusters on privacy in Is there scope for a ‘customer first’ Telco IoT Alliance?

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