WASHINGTON D.C. - The Federal Communications Commission today released its National Broadband Plan, which includes several recommendations related to online privacy on the theory that concerns about online privacy might affect broadband adoption. The plan also notes that "Firms' ability to collect, aggregate, analyze and monetize personal data has already spurred new business models, products and services, and many of these have benefited consumers." The following statement may be attributed to Berin Szoka, Senior Fellow at The Progress & Freedom Foundation:
I share the FCC's goal of increasing consumer control over their digital profiles, and applaud the FCC's call for promoting the development of trusted identity providers and for increased education about identity theft. But I'm disappointed to see that the FCC is focused on regulatory solutions instead of consumer education, technological empowerment, increased enforcement of existing laws, or limiting government access to data collected by the private sector.
Given the nature of bureaucracies, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that the FCC's primary suggestion is that it should be given a key role in crafting privacy regulations for online services. But the FCC clearly lacks any statutory authority over the "computing cloud" and Congress has not asked the agency for suggestions on expanding its jurisdiction.
The FCC deserves credit for recognizing the manifold benefits of online data collection and use, especially that targeted advertising can significantly increase funding for "free" ad-supported content and services. Unfortunately, the FCC doesn't acknowledge that these benefits are at risk in the trade-off inherent in increasing regulation of how online service providers collect and use data. The Plan cites the economic value of "digital profiles" not as a reason for policymakers to tread cautiously in tinkering with the economic engine of the Internet, but as a justification for leveling the playing field among competitors through increased regulation.
None of this is what Congress had in mind when it asked the FCC to propose ways of increasing the affordability and utilization of broadband as part of last year's economic recovery legislation. In essence, the FCC seems to have done what TV talk show guests do: Ignore the question asked and provide the answers they want. When it comes to online privacy, the FCC's answers mostly involve increased FCC regulation of the Internet.
Szoka is available for further comment. Please contact Mike Wendy firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Progress & Freedom Foundation is a market-oriented think tank that studies the digital revolution and its implications for public policy. It is a 501(c)(3) research & educational organization.