*This piece originally appeared in Fortune Magazine on May 10, 2016.
As our online footprints grow in size and scope, it is more important than ever for Internet companies to protect us against hackers and disclose how they use our personal data. The Federal Trade Commission was long the main privacy cop enforcing these essential consumer protections. But last year, the FTC’s sister agency—the Federal Communications Commission—reclassified broadband ISPs as common carriers outside the FTC’s jurisdiction. Unless the courts reverse that decision, there are now two privacy cops on the Internet beat. The FCC polices ISPs like Verizon, Charter, and Sprint, while the FTC continues policing everyone else, from Google and Facebook to Apple and Amazon.
On March 10, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler issued a “fact sheet” summarizing a sweeping proposal to regulate the privacy and data-security practices of Internet service providers. The proposal would subject ISPs to new stringent requirements that other participants in the Internet ecosystem do not face because they are subject only to the more elastic oversight of the Federal Trade Commission under that agency’s general “unfair or deceptive” standard.