Under a new city rule, the three companies that have cable franchise agreements with Seattle must get customer permission if they want to sell personal information or web browsing details.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has directed that curbs be imposed on internet providers to protect customers’ data privacy.
Under a new rule scheduled to take effect May 24, the three companies that have cable franchise agreements with the city must get customer permission if they want to sell personal information or web browsing details.
The city privacy protections come after President Donald Trump signed a bill last month rolling back upcoming federal measures that would have stopped internet companies from collecting and selling customer information without permission.
The bill passed by Congress scrapped a Federal Communications Commission regulation, approved near the end of President Barack Obama’s second term, that would have gone into effect later this year.
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The rollback thrust data privacy into the spotlight, leaving many unanswered questions about how people’s digital information could be protected and used.
“Where the Trump administration continues to roll back critical consumer protections, Seattle will act,” Murray said in a statement announcing the new rule. City officials have taken a stand opposing many measures approved by the Trump administration in the first few months of his term, including an executive order signed by the president that would have banned immigrants from certain countries from entering the U.S.
Some internet providers currently collect customer data unless the user specifically tells them not to, or opts out. Under the city’s rule, people have to specifically opt-in to allow companies to collect and sell their information.
“We felt that an opt-out process was insufficient,” said Michael Mattmiller, the city’s chief technology officer. “Consumers are too busy to somehow learn through the fine print that your web usage is being mined or sold.”
The city will implement the rule under the existing municipal code that covers cable companies that have agreements with Seattle — in this case Comcast, CenturyLink and Wave Broadband.
Comcast and Wave said Wednesday that the new rule would not have an impact on them.
In a blog post after Trump signed the national bill last month, Comcast said it does not currently sell customer information and doesn’t plan to. Wave, a Kirkland-based internet provider, said Wednesday that it “does not collect browser history and has no interest in doing so.”
CenturyLink said it does not sell browsing information and it is working with the city “to ensure that our customer’s information is adequately safeguarded.”
The city’s rule notes that cable providers must submit reports twice a year to prove they are following the privacy regulations.
“When people can’t trust their internet-service provider, then they may not use the service and may not realize the benefits,” Mattmiller said. “We believe that privacy protection is essential.”
Efforts are under way in Olympia to pass similar protections statewide. The state House passed a bill Tuesday to protect consumers’ web browser history. It is expected to face a tougher challenge in the GOP-controlled Senate.