FCC Declines To Force Internet Companies To Listen When You Ask Them Not To Track You


It’s no secret that the internet, well, follows you around. Browse one product on Monday and you’re seeing ads for it everywhere all week long. Modern browsers have an option that lets users ask businesses nicely not to follow them. One consumer group tried to ask the FCC to make businesses listen but it appears that is not to be.

Do Not Track settings exist in browsers, but opting in is, well, optional. Some businesses have chosen to participate and respect a user’s flag, but plenty of others don’t. Among them, two of the biggest advertising companies in the world, Google and Facebook.

In short, the current standard, such as it is, is basically a hot mess. So a group called Consumer Watchdog filed a petition (PDF) asking the FCC to start a process to make a universal rule that would require all of the businesses known as edge providers — the category of services where big web companies like Google and Facebook fall — to honor users’ do not track requests. In their filing, Consumer Watchdog argued that the FCC has authority to make rules regarding privacy under its “ancillary jurisdiction” authority, and tried to bolster that claim with examples of times the FCC has taken action against wireline or wireless providers over privacy breaches.

The FCC, however, disagrees. The commission dismissed the request (PDF), explaining that basically, the FCC has absolutely no interest whatsoever in dealing with the companies that are on the internet, rather than the companies that provide the internet. In short: regulation of edge providers is not on the FCC’s agenda, end of.

Net neutrality opponents have long argued that the 2015 Open Internet Rule is tantamount to censorship and “regulation of the internet,” so in theory the FCC’s categorical rejection of a chance to regulate edge providers should be soothing to the saber-rattlers who are concerned about the commission wanting to stifle content.

Meanwhile, this petition was tantamount to asking some of the biggest businesses in the world to stop making money hand over fist. Had the FCC chosen to pursue a rulemaking procedure, they would almost certainly have faced a significant amount of opposition.

[via The Washington Post]