Petition to impose Do Not Track requirements rejected by commission.
Websites will not be forced to honor consumers' "Do Not Track" requests as the Federal Communications Commission today dismissed a petition that would have imposed new requirements on companies like Google and Facebook.
Consumer Watchdog had petitioned the FCC to "initiate a rulemaking proceeding requiring 'edge providers' (like Google, Facebook, YouTube, Pandora, Netflix, and LinkedIn) to honor 'Do Not Track' Requests from consumers." The group's proposed rule would prevent online services from requiring consumers to consent to tracking in exchange for accessing Web services, preventing online services from sharing personal information of users with third parties when consumers send Do Not Track requests.
When consumers enable the Do Not Track setting in their browsers, they send an HTTP header in an attempt to opt out of third-party tracking conducted by analytics services, advertising networks, and social platforms. Some companies have committed to honor Do Not Track requests, but they are mostly ignored. (Ars readers can visit this website to opt out of advertising network tracking.)
Consumer Watchdog wanted the FCC to impose rules using its Title I and Section 706 authority to regulate "information services." The group pointed out that the FCC intends to impose new privacy rules on Internet service providers under Section 222 of the Communications Act, the privacy portion of the Title II common carrier regulations that the FCC is applying to broadband providers such as Comcast and AT&T. But those rules don't apply to websites.
"Consumers’ privacy concerns about the Internet extend far beyond the broadband providers who are impacted by Section 222," Consumer Watchdog wrote. "Many consumers are as concerned—or perhaps even more worried—about the online tracking and data collection practices of edge providers… edge providers collect the same sensitive personal information that broadband Internet access service providers collect, and that the Commission is committed to protecting. If the Commission does not act to regulate the collection of personal information by edge providers, the Commission will in effect be granting a regulatory advantage to the edge providers, implicating concerns of market distortions."
The FCC's dismissal of the petition didn't address whether the commission has authority to impose the rules under Title I or Section 706. Instead, the FCC noted that when it reclassified broadband as a common carrier service, it did not intend to “regulat[e] the Internet, per se, or any Internet applications or content.”
"Rather, as the Commission explained, its 'reclassification of broadband Internet access service involves only the transmission component of Internet access service,'" the FCC said. Consumer Watchdog's proposed requirement on edge providers would be "inconsistent with the Commission’s articulation of the effect of its reclassification," and inconsistent with its plans for new privacy rules that affect only broadband providers, the FCC said.