Outrage over online privacy rule change

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Kennedy

COEUR d'ALENE — Not in the world of our internet service.

That's a common response from local providers on a new federal law that killed an online privacy regulation and could allow internet provider giants to sell the web browsing history of their customers to advertisers.

Mike Kennedy, president of Intermax Networks, a Coeur d'Alene-based provider, vowed his company will never sell client data.

"Never, not once and we won't," he said. "We are stunned at the change in this law.

"We take our customers’ privacy seriously as all internet service providers should. Unfortunately, the big national companies have carried the day in Washington on this. So, in response, we are making a pledge to our customers that their browsing data is not for sale with Intermax."

The Federal Communications Commission rule issued in October was designed to give consumers greater control over how internet service providers share information. But critics said the rule would have stifled innovation.

Within the first day of taking its firm stance to not sell client data, Kennedy said Intermax received more than 150 messages of appreciation from its customers.

"I've never had such a big response to any client communication before," he said. "But most people had no real idea what was happening until we communicated our position to them. So this was both educational and a clear statement."

Other local providers have a similar response to the change.

"With this change, the internet browsing public will lose the power to stop big internet service and telecommunications providers from invading their privacy and profiting from personal information about their lives, families and children without their express consent," Jake Montgomery, a manager at Intechtel, wrote to The Press in a statement.

"Winning the provisions that protected consumers from this exact thing was a hard-fought battle against big corporate interests. It saddens us to see these protections evaporated with nothing more than the stroke of a pen."

Javier Mendoza, Frontier Communications spokesman, said internet users are encouraged to review their service providers' privacy policy to ensure it's something people are comfortable with.

"Although there have been reports that personal data may be available for sale, that is not true at Frontier," Mendoza told The Press. "Frontier does not track or sell individual customer browsing history. Frontier remains committed to safeguarding our customers’ privacy and to transparency ..."

A spokesperson for Spectrum, formerly Time Warner Cable, in Coeur d'Alene, couldn't be reached for comment on Thursday.

Undoing the FCC regulation leaves people's online information in a murky area. Some experts say federal law still requires broadband providers to protect customer information, but it doesn't spell out how or what companies must do. That's what the FCC rule aimed to do.

Kennedy said ISPs should not be preying on people's browsing history, infringing on their privacy and selling it for financial gain.

"This bill was passed because big companies spent big money on lobbyists," he said. "But it's a drop in the bucket for them compared to what they think they will get by selling user data and their customers' information.

"Some have argued that there were procedural matters to clear up between the FCC and FTC (Federal Trade Commission) as the reason for doing it. I contend there are plenty of other ways to have accomplished that without repealing the privacy rule."

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