If you are among those Americans disappointed with how the FTC has regulated the internet thus far, perhaps you will be pleased to know that the agency has just kick-started the process for making new rules. Their recent release of an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rule making (ANPR) appears to target how parties collect, store, and utilize online data.
Keep an eye on what the FTC does over the next 12 months. New internet rules are coming, and they may not end up being everything privacy advocates want them to be.
Singling out Corporate Entities
When the topic of internet privacy comes up, corporations are almost always labeled the bad guys. Do not misunderstand. The way corporations monetize customer data bothers most of us. The way some use deceptive means to gather information so they can use it for their own advantage leads to consumer anger and frustration. But corporations are not the only guilty parties. Furthermore, corporate greed is not the only motivation.
If the FTC focuses their new rules exclusively on corporate data-gathering but does not address issues like censorship, viewpoint discrimination, etc., they will have done very little to clean up what has become a digital cesspool.
It is clear to anyone willing to be intellectually honest that corporate entities are using the internet to silence those with whom they disagree. Social media and internet search engines are the biggest and most obvious culprits. If your viewpoint does not match theirs, you will be silenced. How is that acceptable but a corporation gathering personal data and selling it is not?
Data Is a Business
There is another aspect to consider here: the fact that data is a business. No doubt a company like Coca-Cola doesn’t need to collect and monetize data to stay in business. They make their money on soft drinks. But who really runs the internet? It is Google, Facebook, and a number of other tech companies whose business is data.
How many millions of Americans use free Google services like Gmail and Google Docs? Those services are free because they generate the data Google uses to make money. Take away Google’s ability to monetize data and those services are no longer free.
Social media is the same deal. Social media sites are only free because their operators can monetize data. If you take that ability away, you take away social media. Now, some would argue that doing so isn’t a bad thing. But that does not change the principle. Much of the internet is free because data drives revenues.
The Scope Makes a Difference
One final thing to keep an eye on is the scope of the FTC’s latest proposal. As it now stands, it appears as though the FTC is only interested in dealing with data collection, storage, and monetization. But could they expand the scope of the rule making procedure later? Absolutely.
The last thing we need is the FTC determining winners and losers in the internet space. We do not need their rules benefiting giants like Spectrum and Comcast while making life harder on smaller, emerging companies like Blazing Hog. For the record, Blazing Hog provides 4G rural internet where wired broadband is unavailable.
The point of all of this is to say that the FTC should not be trusted implicitly. We shouldn’t just assume that the final rules they eventually come up with will be fair to all. We also shouldn’t assume that they won’t use the rule making process to advance a political agenda. That is always a danger when Washington bureaucrats start making rules. So be careful what you wish for.