NetChoice, a trade group that includes targeted ad giants Google, Facebook, and Yahoo, says a bill proposed by Republican Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn to make web services and internet access providers like Comcast and Verizon get permission from users before collecting their data will end free services online.
“[I]magine a world where the next time you use a search engine, instead of seeing results, you see a requirement to enter a credit card. Or the next time you visit USA Today there is fewer content and even more ads on the screen,” NetChoice senior policy counsel Carl Szabo wrote in a blog post this week.
“In this alternate world,” he continued, “you are bombarded with pop-ups and interstitials, all of which are asking for consent in various ways: blanket consent for use of all ‘sensitive’ information, consent for use of some sensitive information, consent for use of sensitive and non-sensitive information, and so on.”
Szabo warns that will be the fate of the web if Congress advances the BROWSER Act. Under the law, companies on both sides of the online ecosystem would have to obtain opt-in consent from users before collecting and monetizing their sensitive data, a reversal of the current, largely opt-out requirement set down by the Federal Trade Commission. The definition of “sensitive” includes web browsing history, a category previously left unregulated before the FCC passed privacy rules aimed exclusively at internet service providers (ISPs) last year.
According to NetChoice, the bill would erase $340 billion in advertising revenue over the next five years, citing studies that show opt-in regimes are 65 percent less effective. The loss of targeted ads will mean a greater volume of ads, less content, and more paywalls across popular websites, consequences that will hit low-income Americans and small businesses hardest.
The group argues the FTC already enforces privacy standards and that the industry regulates itself. But the FTC rules only require opt-in consent for the most sensitive information, like health and financial data. Meanwhile, efforts by edge providers themselves, like Google Chrome’s “Do Not Track” feature, are largely ignored by other websites. There’s no law requiring they comply with the browser’s request.