Marketers Gain Reprieve in Privacy Rule Repeal

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In late March, Congress overruled a Federal Communications Commission proposal that would have restricted internet service providers (ISPs) from collecting and selling data gleaned from consumers’ online browsing histories without their consent; in early April, President Donald Trump signed off on the bill.

“The ISPs have everything you do online, because everything goes through them,” Michael Fauscette, chief research officer at G2 Crowd, explains. This includes browsing habits, app usage history, location data, and even Social Security or credit card numbers.

“They know every site you’ve visited and what you did there. The only thing that protects you in that situation is that, when you have a secure connection, they know that you went to the site, but they don’t know what you did.”

While the proposed changes wouldn’t have gone into effect until later this year, the fact that the proposal was made is enough to elicit agitation, according to experts.

There also remains some debate about whether ISPs had been selling this data to companies for marketing purposes. “I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that all the ISPs were selling data,” Fauscette notes. And in light of the repealed proposal, Fauscette predicts that they will be even more aggressive about selling the data to marketers.

The larger marketing community, for its part, has spoken out in favor of the ruling. Among the organizations showing support were the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the American Advertising Federation, the Association of National Advertisers, the Data & Marketing Association, the Interactive Marketing Bureau, and the Network Advertising Initiative. “We wholeheartedly commend Sen [Jeff] Flake and Congressman [Marsha] Blackburn, and their Senate and House colleagues, for introducing resolutions of disapproval for the FCC’s ill-considered move to create a new, costly, counterproductive, confusing, and unnecessary regulatory regime around privacy for broadband providers,” the groups said in a collective statement prior to Trump’s signing.

But marketers shouldn’t expect noticeable changes in the foreseeable future. For one thing, most customers still aren’t likely to protect their data, says Fauscette.

“As consumers, we can’t have it both ways if we want more relevant and valuable engagements from the brands that we have relationships with,” says Andy O’Dell, chief strategy officer at Clutch, a customer management and marketing analytics company. “Marketers can’t read our minds. We need to open up the data dialogue and communicate with them. Like any healthy relationship, communication and trust are at the foundation.” 

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