Google, Facebook, Verizon, Comcast, Charter, AT&T and Global Brands and Advertisers Kill Broadband Privacy for California—for Now
By: Jeff Chester | Sep 18 2017
Digital marketing companies, especially Facebook and Google, allied with super-size broadband ISPs (AT&T, Comcast, etc.), defeated a bill that would have given Californians the right to have a say in how their digital information can be used. The bill primarily required opt-in consent (an informed, informative okay) before our data could be used to help advertisers target us via a home or mobile Internet connection. Google, Facebook, AT&T, Comcast and their partners don’t want individuals to be able to decide for themselves whether they want to be part of these companies’ commercial surveillance system.
Working both independently and collectively, the digital marketing businesses can now seamlessly gather, analyze and use all our information—whether we are on a mobile device a PC or even watching TV. Our mobile phones and apps send them details of where we go and what we do. All of our “profile” information is collected into a single record, which often contains an ever-growing array of other data—about our finances, health, what our kids do, what we view online, where we shop and for what, our race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and more. Google and Facebook use this data to generate massive revenues from advertisers, marketers and political campaigns. AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon have long had “Google envy,” believing that their monopolistic control over the broadband connections most Americans rely on should also shower them with even more financial rewards. That’s why phone and cable companies have scooped up digital ad companies, such as Yahoo and AOL. Their vision for the future is to profit significantly by selling us to advertisers when we use our digital devices to stream video, listen to music, play games, etc.
The California bill was based on the safeguards that had been enacted by the FCC at the end of the Obama administration, but that President Trump eliminated earlier this year and. Google, Facebook and the others knew that if California enacted such consumer safeguards, it would set a powerful precedent. That’s why they engaged in a deceptive ad campaign, used their political donations for clout with lawmakers, and sent lobbyists to the state to tell tall tales of how Americans have their privacy protected by the FTC.
A terrific coalition of privacy, consumer, education, children’s advocacy, civil rights and civil liberties group fought for the California bill. We are proud that CDD played a modest role. We will all be back, stronger than ever, when the California state legislature reconvenes next year.
But the lesson here is a valuable one and joins the now-almost-daily examples where Google, Facebook and the others misuse their power. The forces of advertising and marketing, now fueled with the ever-growing capabilities of digital applications, undermine the ability of America’s communication and information gatekeepers to effectively serve the public interest. It’s a story that has been repeated throughout the 20th century with the mediums of radio, broadcast television and cable. It’s also always been true of the Internet companies. Protecting our privacy, by stopping these companies from so easily grabbing and monetizing our data, is one way we need to address the problem. The Europeans are about to do precisely that—and the U.S. needs to do the same. That’s a very important beginning for what must be a new national agenda protecting the digital rights of all Americans.