Reply To: 1 April 17 – For sale: Your private browsing history
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I just want to be clear, some Web browsers may call a mode or option of their operation as “private browsing”, where data are not persistent, so that any history, cookies, Web Storage, etc. which are stored during its session are not retained once the browser exits. As a concrete example of this mode of a browser, Google Chrome calls this “Incognito Mode” or an “Incognito window,” and I think Mozilla calls this “private browsing.” Unless you’re using a particularly egregious browser which would call this “private browsing” yet somehow still transmit the operations of this mode of the browser somewhere, that would not be for sale.
I understand Commissioner Pai’s reasoning. He views an ISP as just another Internet-connected company. He simply wants this privacy regulation to apply to everyone or noone. He obviously chooses the latter. At the same time, it is that much more ironic that he made quite a lot of remarks about how the Kingsbury Commitment is not a model to be emulated. The results of the Kingsbury Commitment are now quite clear: lawmakers were duped into believing that competition was somehow counterproductive, and that the 3000 or so extant telecomm carriers near the beginning of the 20th Century should be basically regulated out of existence, in favor of unification. This effectively made a government propped up monopoly of AT&T. The crux of the Commitment was accelerated buildout of a unified system in exchange for being regulated, but through lobbying efforts ended up being just a PR move.
If it weren’t for cable TV providing superior TV signals for many, and later implementing DOCSIS, people would likely not have even one Internet competitor. In some areas, either the telco or the cableco is it, and other alternatives like cellular or satellite are simply not price (or even service) competitive with wireline.
Having laid that groundwork, the libertarian solution to the problem, patronizing another business so that some privacy-invading business will either wither and die or adjust to not violate privacy, will not work because there is no true competition where Internet access is concerned. In my case, if Verizon and Spectrum both decide to sell my Internet usage data, there is no comparable service available to me. LTE service is not sold as “unlimited” as FiOS and Spectrum HSI are, it is priced either as per-gigabyte, or is severely restricted after some number of GBs transferred per month (typically around 20) and at least double the wireline monthly price. Satellite is similarly very high-priced, and the latency further makes the service incomparable with wireline services.
If there were lots more than just 2 practical ISP choices, I am very libertarian and I would agree with Pai, there’s no reason to burden only that small class of businesses. But because we are in this government propped up, competition-poor predicament, regulation is virtually required. This has been shown by the fact that ISPs were reclassified from “information services” to Title II common carriers. We have seen some glimmers of hope in the cellular business, with trailers Sprint and T-Mobile USA forcing giants Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility to offer “unlimited” plans through competition. But these plans, regardless of carrier, come with significant limitations when compared to wireline broadband.
The whole underpinning of the switch to Title II classification was that ISPs (including Verizon) took the case to court (and won) when ‘Net Neutrality regs were imposed on them. With the pressure on to reverse former Commissioner Wheeler’s ‘Net Neutrality regs, this will probably be the next consumer-friendly regulation to go.