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Browser history, customer data to remain private

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Tacoma City Council approved a restriction on Internet service providers that lease bandwidth on the municipally-owned Click Network, forbidding the companies from selling customer data without permission. It’s something they currently don’t do, or plan to start doing. The resolution forbids it if business plans change.
The resolution, No. 39702, was sponsored by Councilmember Anders Ibsen and requests that the appointed Tacoma Public Utility Board prohibit the companies using Click from collecting or selling customer data without the written approval from the customer. The resolution also requests the board prohibit companies from refusing to provide services to customers who do not approve of the collection or sale of personal information.
“It is certainly a safeguard,” Ibsen said, noting that the resolution is also a statement of intent for more discussions about Internet privacy and the benefits of a municipal system.
The restriction came after President Donald Trump signed a Congressional resolution that will roll back Internet privacy protections in December that will allow Internet providers to use or sell customer information, allowing them to have targeted advertising currently found on social media platforms in what critics say is a breach of privacy. At the heart of the issue is the larger debate about whether Internet access is a fundamental part of life and therefore should be regulated or a freemarket luxury that operates under “industry guidelines” rather than rules.
The council has long sided with the argument that it is essential, most notably with its decision to seek plans for the Click Network to offer telephone, Internet and cable television as a way to promote Internet access through a municipally-owned system.
The recent privacy resolution only affects the two companies that provide Internet services by wholesale leasing bandwidth on the Click Network that is then retailed to residential and business customers. Those companies, Advanced Stream and Rainier Connect, have pledged not to sell customer data even when it would be allowed when the rules go into effect later this year.
The prohibition against the sale of customer data locally could become part of future franchise agreements as those contracts come up for renewal, Ibsen said if the state fails to take action.
The other major players in the local Internet access marketplace, namely Comcast and Century Link, provide service through their own fiber optic system, and therefore, are not bound to the city’s restrictions. But they have their own pledges to secure and protect customer information.
“There’s been a lot of attention and questions about onsumer privacy in recent days,” Comcast’s Senior Vice President and Chief Privacy Officer Gerard Lewis wrote in a response to the federal action. “At Comcast, we respect and protect our customers’ personal information. Always have, always will. We do not sell our broadband customers’ individual web browsing history. We did not do it before the FCC’s rules were adopted, and we have no plans to do so.”
He continued by saying that customers must opt in to targeted advertising through the release of “non sensitive” information and noted the company is working on ways to more clearly state its privacy policy. “The bottom line: Comcast values our customers’ trust, and we will continue to protect the privacy and security of their personal information.”
CenturyLink takes a similar stance in its privacy policy that includes when, how and why it shares customer information.
“CenturyLink is made up of a number of companies nd we share information among them as permitted by applicable law,” according to the policy. “We also use other companies to help us market, sell and bill for our services, and we necessarily share information with them and we require these companies to keep your information confidential and secure.”
Several states around the nation are primed to pass their own customer protection laws, following the federal change. Two bills in the state’s special session would require all Internet providers in the state to ask for permission before releasing or selling the browser history and personal information of their customers.

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