CDD Research Basis of FCC complaint against Comcast, AT&T and Cablevision on cable TV privacy
By: Jeff Chester | Jun 10 2016
In the Matter of Petition of Public Knowledge, Center for Digital Democracy, Consumer Watchdog, Consumer Federation of America, and TURN —The Utility Reform Network
47 U.S.C. §551 and 47 U.S.C. § 338(i) (collectively referred to as “privacy rules”) require that cable and satellite providers (herein referred to as “cable operators”) obtain the “written or electronic consent of the subscriber concerned” prior to the collection and use of that information for advertising purposes. Cable operators are also required to provide a written statement to their subscribers, which clearly and conspicuously informs the subscriber of the nature of the use of their personally identifiable information. Through these rules, Congress and the Federal Communications Commission have emphasized the importance of giving consumer’s control over how their information is being used. Despite this, cable operators have continued to use large amounts of their customers’ data without properly obtaining customer consent or informing subscribers of the extent of the use of their information. The Commission should enforce the relevant privacy provisions to ensure that cable operators only use subscriber information when they have the consent required by law.
Cable Operators Collect and Share Large Amounts of Customer Data to Generate Targeted Advertising.
The use of consumer data to target consumers for advertising is on the rise.
Exactly how and to what extent cable operators are leveraging their customer’s data has been extensively documented in a recent report by the Center for Digital Democracy. Cable operators increasingly gather their customers’ personal information, share and combine that information with third parties, and use it to target customers for advertising on an individual level. Verizon, Comcast, Google, AT&T, Time Warner, Cablevision and others have incorporated powerful layers of data collection and digital marketing technologies to better target individuals.
AT&T’s TV Blueprint, for example, “gives advertisers working with AT&T the ability to reach people based on factors like device, operating system, whether or not they’re heavy data users or the status of their carrier contract,” using “sophisticated second-by-second set- top box data” and other information. AT&T pulls data “from millions of set-top boxes” and analyzes consumer viewing history and uses these data to target consumers based on their viewing profile. Companies like Cablevision leverage granular data and precise details of household viewing behavior, and combine it with third-party data covering other intimate details of consumers’ lives to analyze and target specific individuals with video advertising across a range of screens. In their own words, “this set-top box level targeting lets marketers target customers that fit particular trends, profiles, demographics and attributes, and they can also pair the Cablevision data with their own or third-party data.”
Cablevision and AT&T are not alone in their pervasive use of consumer data. Comcast recently acquired Visible World, which boasts of using data “from millions of enabled Smart TVs” as part of its advertising targeting service. Data points used to target consumers include income, ethnicity, education level, what kind of car they drive, purchase history, and location of their residence. Further, Comcast has acquired companies like This Technology, which is capable of inserting personalized content into network streams—including advertising messages tailored for specific individuals.
These programs illustrate how cable providers give advertisers the ability to easily access and use a customer’s information, without that customer knowing the extent to which that information is being used. While these practices are broadly indicative of the ways many cable operators improperly use subscriber data, AT&T, Cablevision, and Comcast are among the most egregious. The Commission should investigate these practices and find that they violate the privacy rules.
Full filed complaint attached below.