A number of advocacy groups, including Privacy Revolt and StandUnited, allowed users to submit prepared comments through a web form on their respective websites, which comprised hundreds, if not thousands, of the comments submitted. (This reporter gave up after combing through more than 600 records.)
Although the comments were quite different in tenor – Privacy Revolt, for example, supports the FCC’s proposal, whereas StandUnited called it a “sham” for not including edge providers like Google, which arguably have more access to consumer data than ISPs – the main takeaway was the same: Consumers have profound misgivings around sharing their data.
Jeffery from California put it this way: “Information about my family and our online activities should remain private and must not be sold to marketers or others who would use it for commercially exploitative purposes.”
In late March when the FCC voted to approve its privacy proposal for public comment in a 3-2 party line vote (Democrats for, Republicans against), FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, one of the two dissenters, raised what he called “a reality check” about how most ISPs use collected information.
“Unlike government entities using the information to potentially threaten or undo the freedom of individuals, the high crime and misdemeanor at issue here is the ultimate desire of some to want to market commercial products to others,” O’Rielly said. “Simply put, they want to try to sell you something that you may actually enjoy purchasing. It’s as if we’ve all forgotten how the internet economy actually works – there is a trade-off.”
A Pew study in January found that many Americans are willing to share their personal information or be tracked in exchange for something of value, although it depends on the context of the situation.
For example, 47% of people are cool with being tracked by retailers in exchange for loyalty card perks, while 55% of people said “hell no” when asked if they would let their energy company install a smart thermostat to track their movements around the home to save on their bill.
One respondent to Pew’s survey put it like this: “There will be no ‘SMART’ anythings in this household. I have enough personal data being stolen by the government and sold [by companies] to spammers now.”
And therein lies the rub. Tracking and data collection are seen by many as nefarious no matter who’s doing it.
At AdExchanger’s Clean Ads IO on Tuesday, IAB President and CEO Randall Rothenberg made the distinction between what he called “creepy” ads and “crappy” ads, noting that crappy ads and bad experiences are primarily what lead most consumers to download ad blockers, more so than any sort of privacy issue.
But Anne from California would beg to differ in her comments to the FCC: “I have no idea why we have privacy laws regarding medication information when the whole world knows in seconds what medical condition or medication is being looked up. Then there is the added irritation of constant popups blocking the screen selling whatever one looked up earlier. There is no privacy. One should look at the internet as the town gossip not to be trusted with any information.”