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Practitioners Could Soon Be Partnering With Local ISP’s To Target Tax Clients

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Local practitioners might soon have access to lot more consumer information that will enable them to dynamically price items and market to consumers based on the websites and apps consumers visit and where they connect online.

That’s because Congress has just passed a bill last week that lets internet service providers (ISP’s) sell consumers’ internet history and other sensitive information, such as their location, financial information, health information and the content of their online communications.

The legislation, which rolls back Obama era FCC rules that would have required ISP’s to get consumers’ permission before sharing sensitive data. Under the rules, ISP’s would have been allowed to use and share non-sensitive information, such as a consumer’s email address, unless the customer opted out.

The legislation positions ISP’s to become competitors to data brokers and ad networks.

The legislation positions ISP’s to become competitors to data brokers and ad networks, says Susan Grant, director of consumer protection and privacy at the advocacy group Consumer Federation of America. “They will be offering services that are, in many ways, the same as other companies that collect, analyze and sell consumers’ data,” she says.

But ISP’s differ from those other services in an important way because they see every move someone makes online, including the websites they visit, what we do there, the apps they use and the locations from which they connect.

By working with a local ISP, practitioners can access this information, and adjust their marketing based on a host of factors, such as whether a consumer has shopped around for an item or on his apparent income level, she says.

The information gathered from the searches consumers make online or the websites and apps consumers visit could also enable the preparer to advertise specific services to prospects with specific profiles.

For example, a local practitioner may be able to tailor an ad specifically targeting prospects who have visited an H&R Block or Jackson-Hewitt website.

In pushing for the bill in Congress, ISP’s argued that internet marketing giants like Google and Facebook Inc. had an unfair business advantage in that they are able to use and market the consumers’ data they gather and enable retailers and other marketers to use that information to target consumers with ads.

But these ‘giants’ don’t’ really see the nitty-gritty of consumers web-browsing habits and they don’t have access to the consumers actual physical location data when we turn off location tracking. Mobile providers will always know exactly where consumers are because they know the cell towers their devices are using.

For example, a local practitioner may be able to tailor an ad specifically targeting prospects who have visited ... Click To Tweet

However, many Internet service providers (ISP’s) have privacy policies that may cover this type of information. If an ISP shares or sells an individual’s personal information in violation of its own privacy policy, a state attorney general could take the company to court, said Travis LeBlanc, a former enforcement bureau chief at the Federal Communications Commission.

State attorneys general could also sue ISP’s whose data practices could be construed as “unfair” to other businesses. Meanwhile, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission has said what’s left of his agency’s privacy authority still allows him to bring lawsuits against companies — he just won’t be able to write rules that look similar to what Congress has just rejected.

If the providers relax their privacy policies or if the FCC chooses not to take action, ISP’s could conceivably share detailed information about a person’s Web usage that could be used to discover his or her identity.

What generally happens when practitioners use a company such as Facebook to advertise with a certain demographic — say, men between the ages of 45 and 55, the practitioner’s ads will be displayed on Facebook to that group, but the practitioner will never see specific information about those people, which will continue to be held by the data company (or in this case, the ISP).

A spokesman for the cable industry said that many Internet providers have committed to a voluntary set of privacy principles that already limit the industry’s ability to share or sell the data of individuals.

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