*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.
The critical question is how the FCC will exercise its new privacy powers. In our view, the FCC should follow the same basic approach that the FTC has successfully developed and enforced since the dawn of the commercial Internet.