CDD Calls on FCC to Protect Consumer Privacy on Broadband Networks
By: Jeff Chester | May 28 2016
The Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), a nonprofit organization representing the interests of consumers in the digital marketplace, strongly supports the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) proposal to empower individuals to make effective decisions regarding their privacy on broadband networks. Broadband Internet access service (BIAS) plays a powerful and distinctive role in the commercial digital media marketplace, requiring precisely the set of sensible safeguards offered by the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). CDD believes it is entirely necessary and consistent with the Communications Act that the commission extend longstanding consumer-protection policies for the telephone network into the modern broadband context. The role of the network in the broadband marketplace has a distinct purpose compared to so-called “edge” content providers: to facilitate a fairly managed and efficient connection between the subscriber/consumer and the content and/or services of their choice. Given their network-management role, BIAS providers have unique capabilities in terms of monitoring the communications and activities of their subscribers, enabling the capture and use of an extensive array of personal and other consumer information. Positioned by necessity at the center of subscribers’ wireline or wireless broadband use, and holding a “digital key” that can help analyze much of their users’ digitally connected behaviors, BIAS providers have unlimited opportunities to influence the decisions consumers make via data-collection-related applications and services.
Consumers today confront a far-reaching and largely invisible data-gathering apparatus that tracks and analyzes their every move online. For example, as the FTC has acknowledged, the growth of cross-device tracking, enabling the identification of a particular consumer’s use of personal computers, mobile phones, tablets, and increasingly even television, and combining multiple sources of data for the development of a targeting profile, illustrates how recent advances in digital data collection pose growing threats to consumer privacy. Indeed, the journal of the Association of National Advertisers explained just last month, “cross-device marketing … allows unprecedented access to individual consumers via personal or shared household devices. … Data-driven cross-device marketers gain exclusive access to a slew of advantageous marketing enhancements, including consistent messaging across all devices … .” Leading BIAS providers promise such cross-device targeting capabilities.
Lacking the ability to enact regulations to protect privacy (except for children 12 and under), the FTC has been powerless to ensure consumer protection from cross-device tracking practices, let alone from the growing myriad of practices that gather consumer data from social media, mobile app, online video usage, programmatic targeting, and many other practices. Without the authority to issue regulations on privacy-related matters connected to consumer financial services, for example, the FTC has been forced to rely on its Section 5 authority related to unfair and deceptive practices. In practical terms, this has enabled the digital-data industry to recognize that there are no real constraints to their rapidly expanding collection, analysis, and use of consumer data.
The FTC has long recognized that its inability to issue regulations has placed the agency at a serious disadvantage, and has called for the enactment of new regulatory authority. For example, as former FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz testified before Congress in 2009, in order for the agency “to perform a greater and more effective role protecting consumers … changes in the law and additional authority to promulgate needed rules …” are required. As CDD explained in its March 2016 report on the growth of digital data gathering by leading ISPs (and filed separately in this proceeding), companies such as ATT, Comcast, Verizon, Cablevision, and Charter have made significant investments in their ability to capture, process, and take advantage of a consumer’s information across all the devices they use daily. They are using cloud- and IP-based management systems to deliver data-connected advertising and marketing; have invested in or allied with real-time programmatic marketing technologies that, in milliseconds, make personalized ad-related decisions on which consumers to target and for what product; and have acquired numerous companies that strengthen their hold and use of consumer information, including data gathered by their consumers’ use of apps, online video, and mobile phones...
Key characteristics of the BIAS data collection apparatus include: [see attached comments for full submission]