Groups advocating for children's privacy protections have filed comments with the FCC opposing the petitions by cable ISPs and others that the commission revamp or reject broadband privacy rules approved under chairman Tom Wheeler.
The Wheeler-backed rules, approved on a straight party line vote last fall, require ISPs to get opt-in permission from subs for the collection and sharing of sensitive information, which the FCC has defined as including the browser history that helps third parties target advertising, as well as "financial information; health information; Social Security numbers; precise geo-location information; information pertaining to children; content of communications; call detail information; application usage history, and their functional equivalents."
Because the Federal Trade Commission does not have authority over common carriers, the groups argue, rolling back the rules could mean that parents would have no control over their ISP's use of their children's information.
They also oppose modifying the rules to make some categories of sensitive information nonsensitive or replacing the opt-in regime to an opt-out regime.
Those, they said, would weaken protections for children's privacy.
Given that none of the petitions has challenged that children's information is sensitive and deserves protection, the FCC should maintain that protection regardless as a way to limit targeted advertising to children by requiring informed parental consent (opt-in).
They also say web browsing and app use histories should remain classified as sensitive information for adults and children alike and must be opt-in.
"Because data analytics and modeling allow for inferences of the most personal traits, characteristics, likes and dislikes of any person or group of persons, use of this information without consent is harmful for all consumers, and particularly for children," they said.
And given that online browsing and activity of children "is inextricably intertwined" with that of adults, trying to make one opt-in and the other opt-out, thus requiring ISPs to determine the source of each, would be costly for them and likely further invade the privacy of children and adults in trying to figure that out.
Groups filing the oppositions to the petition were the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, the Institute for Public Representation, Common Sense Kids Action, Consumer Action, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
The FCC last week stayed implementation of one portion of the privacy rules while it considers the petitions from ISPs, advertisers and others. FCC chairman Ajit Pai and acting FTC chair Maureen Ohlhausen both signaled in a joint statement that they favor the FTC approach to edge provider data collection and use, which does not include opt-in or defining browser and app histories as sensitive information.
“While we haven’t received the complaint, protecting kids and families has always been a top priority for us,” said a YouTube spokesperson. “We will read the complaint thoroughly and evaluate if there are things we can do to improve. Because YouTube is not for children, we’ve invested significantly in the creation of the YouTube Kids app to offer an alternative specifically designed for children.”