Comcast Executive Responds to FCC’s ISP Privacy Ruling

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“For over two decades, ISPs and all other internet companies have operated under the FTC’s privacy regime and during that time, the internet thrived, consumer privacy was protected and ISPs handled consumer data responsibly,” David L. Cohen, senior executive VP and chief diversity officer at Comcast says in a blog posted after Thursday’s 3-2 decision by the FCC on new privacy rules for ISPs.

Given the technical issues involved, Cohen says there will need to be a careful review of the new FCC order to understand all the details, but he does conclude that the sharply divided decision probably will do more harm than good for consumers, competition and innovation.

He further observes that while the FCC’s final rules “moved in the right direction toward consistency with the FTC’s privacy framework, which a wide range of commenters – including the FTC itself – strongly supported, they unfortunately fell short in certain key respects.” Cohen says they diverged considerably from the FTC’s sensitivity-based approach for the use of web browsing and apps usage data, and did not pay attention to the FTC’s and Obama Administration’s approach of encouraging companies to inform their customers of new and discounted services with few regulatory burdens.

Cohen believes this doesn’t make sense and he points to research released earlier this year by Progressive Policy Institute that had 94 percent of survey responders saying they want a single privacy regime for all internet companies.

Some consumer advocates also are expressing the desire to have one regime for all of the internet but are advocating more rules, not less, extending to more types of companies than just ISPs. For example, nonprofit organization Consumer Watchdog used a statement to say it welcomes the FCC’s new broadband privacy approach but quickly added its opinion that it believes it's now necessary to extend rules to cover “the rest of the internet.”

“Today’s FCC action gives broadband users significant control over their information. It’s a major step forward in protecting consumers’ privacy,” John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog privacy project director, says. “But the FCC action only covers ISPs. We now need privacy rules – possibly enacted through legislation – that cover the rest of the web, the so-called Internet edge providers like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon.”

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