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FCC Head Wants ISPs to Stop Selling Your Online History

Online usage histories shouldn't be sold by Internet service providers (ISPs) to the highest bidders, says the latest pro-consumer proposal from Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler. His proposal would stop broadband ISPs from selling data pertaining to customers to third parties without "affirmative 'opt-in' consent."

Credit: Brian A. Jackson/Shutterstock

(Image credit: Brian A. Jackson/Shutterstock)

Wheeler's privacy proposal was made public last Thursday (Mar. 10). It holds ISPs to the same privacy standards set for voice-call providers in the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Third-party usage would be an opt-in, but in-house usage would be an opt-out.

For example, if Verizon provides your FiOS home Internet service, it could use your data-usage statistics to pitch Verizon Wireless cellular service until you say no. But it can't sell the same statistics to another company until you say yes.

More: Best VPN Services for Staying Anonymous Online

At least one telecommunications companies opposes Wheeler's proposal.

"Given the realities of this complex market, there is no basis for treating ISP data as somehow 'proprietary' or subjecting ISPs to unique privacy requirements," said Bob Quinn, AT&T's chief of Federal regulatory matters, in a blog post last Wednesday (Mar. 9).

Wheeler's proposal also requires that providers "take reasonable steps to safeguard customer information" no matter where providers keep it.

If consumer data is compromised, the proposal requires ISPs to notify customers within 10 days. The FCC would need to be notified within a week. If the service has more than 5,000 customers, the FBI and U.S. Secret Service would also need to be contacted within that first week.

The proposal will be voted on by the five FCC commissioners March 31. In the meantime, if you'd like to hide your traffic from your ISP, we recommend using virtual private network (VPN) services, which encrypt all your Internet traffic and route it through a secure server.

Last week, Verizon agreed to pay the FCC $1.35 million to settle a case over user-tracking "supercookies" that would persist even if you deleted them. Verizon must now get permission from users before sharing their data with third parties. We've got step-by-step instructions for opting out of Verizon's trackers if you'd like to be proactive in protecting your data.

Henry T. Casey

Henry is an editor writer at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and Apple. Prior to joining Tom's Guide — where he's the self-described Rare Oreo Expert — he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. You can find him at your local pro wrestling events, and looking for the headphone adapter that he unplugged from his iPhone.