Privacy alert concept with vintage businessman and calculator

Just what is your right to privacy on-line? That question is being debated again on Capitol Hill with the focus this time on content and ad targeting.

We’ve all had those annoying (yet somehow effective) ads follow us around. It’s called “Ad re-targeting” and allows website owners to drop a pixel on a page that identifies you as you move around the internet, then displays ads linking back to the content or an associated ad campaign. Shop for shoes that one day and the ads may follow you forever! It’s also known as “ad stalking.”

Consumers seem to run the gamut from mild toleration to open warfare about the practice. Advertisers and small business owners typically like them.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) plans to tighten the restrictions on how private information can be used, which would – in essence – mean consumers would have to give permission to broadband companies to track your movement and share personal data with third-party ad providers. In other words, you’d have to opt-in to share this info instead of automatically sharing the data and having to opt out.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler told Senators his proposal was simply an effort to extend network privacy protections to the internet. Opponents have called it a “land grab” trying to wrestle away control from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

The FCC has taken a fair amount of grief for fighting this battle. Some say the FCC needs to target companies like Google and search engines, which would be exempt from this type of rule-making. The FCC says it has no jurisdiction there, only with the broadband companies. For its part, the FCC says it’s targeting only the Internet Service Providers (ISP) under its authority over broadband.

Tom Wheeler, FCC Chairman (via Wikipedia)

“Most of us understand that the social media we join and the websites we visit collect our personal information, and use it for advertising purposes. Seldom, however, do we stop to realize that our ISP is also collecting information about us. What’s more, we can choose not to visit a website or not to sign up for a social network, or we can choose to drop one and switch to another in milliseconds. But broadband service is fundamentally different. Once we subscribe to an ISP—for our home or for our smartphone—most of us have little flexibility to change our mind or to do so quickly.” – FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a prepared statement

Direct marketing groups, such as the Direct Market Association, and other trade groups, including the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the US Chamber of Commerce are all telling Congress to leave things alone.

The hearing itself in front of Congress is not without controversy. A group called Protect Internet Freedom – who is also critical of the FCC’s privacy framework but saying it doesn’t go far enough – wants to know why its comments haven’t shown up in the proceedings. “The FCC is required by law to make public all officially submitted comments in a timely manner,” the group said in a prepared statement. The docket shows 27 comments total, according to, but Protect Internet Freedom said it had submitted more than 2,000.

Watch the video of the testimony here... if you can’t get to sleep.