Consumer Watchdog: FCC Should Regulate Edge Privacy

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Representatives of Consumer Watchdog have talked with top counselors to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler to warn that the FCC's set-top proposal does not contain sufficient teeth to protect consumer privacy from mass data collection and monetizing by Google and others.

According to an ex parte filing on the phone call, they told the FCC that it should use its authority both to require consumer-facing privacy pledges by third parties getting access to set-top content and data—so the Federal Trade Commission can enforce violations of unfair or deceptive practices prohibitions, but also use its direct authority to regulate edge privacy, an authority the FCC has suggested it does not have.

The proposal would require third parties to pledge to abide by the same privacy protections MVPDs must adhere to, but Consumer Watchdog says that pledge must be directly to consumers, rather than to MVPDs or the FCC.

In addition, they say that the FCC has direct authority to regulate and enforce privacy itself under Sec. 629, which is the mandate to insure the availability of set-tops from unaffiliated third parties.

"The Commission can easily confirm, through this public inquiry, that failure to require compliance with current privacy protections will hinder the growth of an independent market for set top boxes and thus frustrate the goals set forth in section 629. Consumer Watchdog noted that the analysis contained in comments submitted by Public Knowledge are in accord with this view of the Commission’s authority," it says. "Under Section 629, the FCC would also have enforcement jurisdiction.  When it comes to protecting privacy, the more cops on the beat, the better."

FCC chairman Tom Wheeler has consistently said the FCC does not have the authority to regulate edge providers.

The group also argues that the FCC has authority to regulate edge provider privacy under Sec. 706. That is the mandate to insure advanced telecom is deployed in a timely fashion that the FCC has used to justify regulating ISPs.

Cable operators have opined that while the FCC continues to hammer them as gatekeepers and threats to the open internet, it has been relatively mum, and certainly hands off, when it comes to the threat of powerful edge providers to do the same.

And why does Consumer Watchdog feel multiple privacy cops are a must? "[T]he enormous opportunity for abuse of consumers’ privacy by data collectors. Google, for example, has already amassed a massive profile of the online activities, behavior and habits of virtually every American, which it in turn sells to advertisers and others. The company seeks to add to its database by monitoring (and later marketing) consumers’ private viewing and other activities via its own set top box."

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