The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) set forth new rules this week on how telecommunications carriers can share certain customer information, giving telecom-related service providers a faster track to consumer data.
Carriers can share caller information with affiliates or third-party agents that provide communications-related services using an "opt-out" approach, the FCC said. The policy means that consumers' information will be shared unless they opt-out when receiving a notice of the carrier's intent to share their information.
However, when a carrier wishes to share customer information with an unrelated third party or affiliate that does not provide telecommunication-related services, the carrier must adopt an "opt-in" approach, which requires consumers to provide their consent, the FCC said.
The rules govern what the FCC calls "customer proprietary network information" (CPNI), which includes information on what services consumers subscribe to and to whom and where they call.
Up until 1999, the FCC held an opt-in policy for the sharing of all CPNI by carriers. However, these rules were vacated when a Tenth Circuit appeals court ruled in favor of U.S. West Inc., which had filed suit claiming a First Amendment right to share the information under an opt-out approach.
Since then, the rules have been in a "state of play," an FCC spokesman said, with all information being shared under an opt-out approach.
Privacy advocates are taking a wait-and-see approach to the new guidelines, saying will lie in how carriers go about informing consumers of their sharing practices.
"The test is going to be whether the opt-out option is easily available and exercised," said Paula Bruening, staff counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).
"While opt-in is probably the highest standard, what's most important to the CDT is that consumers understand what their choices are," Bruening said.