AT&T, Comcast, Verizon Go Into Damage Control Mode Following Death Of FCC Privacy Rules
Lawmakers in the majority argued that the FCC overstepped its authority and that ISPs were being subject to regulations that don’t apply to companies like Google and Facebook (which both make money based on customer behavior via ads). However, negative reaction to killing the FCC rules has been swift, with some activists raising over $200,000 to leak the browsing habits of members of Congress in protest.
Some of the nation’s largest ISPs, however, are fighting back. AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon have all penned open letters, which in essence tell customers not to worry. AT&T’s Bob Quinn came out swinging for the fences at the very start of his blog posting, and sought to remind everyone that the privacy rules wouldn’t have even gone into effect until later this year, so nothing has really changed — yet.
“Supporters of this action all agree that the rescinded FCC rules should be replaced by a return to the long-standing Federal Trade Commission approach,” said Quinn. “But in today’s overheated political dialogue, it is not surprising that some folks are ignoring the facts.”
“The Congressional action had zero effect on the privacy protections afforded to consumers,” Quinn continued. “It is also flatly untrue that the Congressional action eliminated all legal protections governing use of consumer information.”
Quinn goes on to argue that if members of Congress have a problem with the current rules regarding sensitive customer information (like browsing and location data), and want customers to be able to opt-in, then the rules should apply equally to ISPs, “edge players” and search engines.
“If the government bans the ISP from that data but allows, for example, OS providers, app developers and everyone else who has software running on your phone to collect your location and internet data, use it, share or sell it, that does not protect but rather confuses the consumer.”
Comcast and Verizon stuck to the same general idea with their blog postings, but were much more diplomatic in their approach. Comcast’s Gerard Lewis, SVP, Deputy General Counsel & Chief Privacy Officer for Public Policy, started off by proclaiming, “We respect and protect our customers’ personal information. Always have, always will.
“We do not sell our broadband customers’ individual web browsing history. We did not do it before the FCC’s rules were adopted, and we have no plans to do so.”
Lewis says that Comcast requires opt-in consent before it shares customers’ “sensitive information”. On the flip side, he says that if customers don’t want Comcast to send them targeted ads, they have the ability to opt-out.
“Contrary to the many inaccurate statements and reports, we do not sell our customers’ individual web browsing information to third parties and that we do not share sensitive information unless our customers have affirmatively opted in to allow that to occur,” Lewis added.
Verizon also took a rather measured approach that is in stark contrast to AT&T’s bravado. “Verizon does not sell the personal web browsing history of our customers. We don’t do it and that’s the bottom line,” said Verizon Chief Privacy Officer Karen Zacharia. “Verizon is fully committed to the privacy of our customers. We value the trust our customers have in us so protecting the privacy of customer information is a core priority for us.”
Zacharia argued that neither of the company's advertising programs sell the web browsing history of its customers. Her bottom line is similar to that of AT&T, saying that it should be a level playing field for all companies with regards to internet privacy. “Consumers benefit and innovations flourish when there is one consistent consumer privacy framework that applies to all internet companies and users in the internet ecosystem,” said Zacharia. “That is what Congress voted for this week.”
President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill in the coming days, with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stating this week that the action would allow “service providers to be treated fairly and consumer protection and privacy concerns to be reviewed on an equal playing field.”
(Top Image Sourced From barnimages/flickr)