OVERNIGHT TECH: Dems applaud FCC's move against broadcasters

THE LEDE: Public interest groups and Democrats in Congress lauded Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler’s decision to consider changing the way broadcast companies team up to buy advertising.

Supporters said that Wheeler’s plan for the FCC to consider shuffling the rules and limit broadcasters’ presence in a TV market was a bold step to prevent companies from finding loopholes around existing ownership rules.

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“Any time there is potentially collusive behavior, it needs to be closely scrutinized,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the ranking member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, said in a statement. “Chairman Wheeler has struck a good balance with these rules and I look forward to working with the Chairman and FCC Commissioners in ensuring the adoption of these critical reforms.”

Wheeler’s plan, announced on Thursday, would limit advertisers from engaging in “joint sales agreements,” where one TV station sells ads on another’s behalf. Under the proposal, stations that sell 15 percent or more of another’s ads would count as owning that station. Currently, broadcasters can own only one of a market’s top four stations.

"Chairman Wheeler's announcement should be welcomed by all TV viewers,” John Bergmayer, a senior staff attorney at the consumer group Public Knowledge, said in a statement. “The FCC's actions will represent a meaningful attempt to rein in programming costs, by ensuring that local broadcasters negotiate for carriage on pay TV systems on their own behalf, instead of banding together with their ostensible competitors to coordinate their activities and demand above-market rates for their programming.”

Republicans and the broadcast industry, which has the most to lose in the deal, are firing back.

The current rules, National Association of Broadcasters President Gordon Smith said in a statement, “lead to more local news and provide robust competition to giant pay TV providers.”

"The real loser will be local TV viewers, because this proposal will kill jobs, chill investment in broadcasting and reduce meaningful minority programming and ownership opportunities,” he added.

Ajit Pai, a GOP commissioner on the FCC, called the proposal “a dagger aimed at the heart of small-town broadcasters.”

“It’s a job-killer that would result in less news programming, less diversity, and more stations going dark," he said in a statement.

The FCC will consider the proposal at its monthly meeting later this month.

DOJ takes Comcast-Time Warner: The Justice Department, not the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), will take the lead in overseeing the proposed $45 billion Comcast and Time Warner Cable merger, it confirmed on Thursday. Assistant Attorney General Bill Baer, however, will be recused from the inquiry, because he worked on behalf of NBC Universal when Comcast bought it in 2011.

Both the department and the FTC had jurisdiction over reviewing antitrust aspects of the merger. The Federal Communications Commission is also responsible for looking at the issue, from a public interest perspective. 

FTC endorses international privacy steps: The Federal Trade Commission announced Thursday two separate processes with foreign governments to facilitate the flow of information across borders.

The first is tool from the European Union and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation to allow tech companies to more easily check compliance against the two sets of privacy regimes. The checklist released Thursday “demonstrates the substantial overlap” in the privacy regimes and “will help companies identify the requirements that both systems have in common,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said during a press event. “While a lot of work still remains to be done” to create interoperability between the privacy regimes, “I think this is a critically important step,” she said.

The second is a memorandum of understanding between the FTC and the U.K.’s privacy authority to increase cooperation and coordination as the two agencies look to protect consumer privacy. “As consumer data increasingly crosses borders, the FTC needs to be able to work with privacy enforcers around the globe in investigating potential violations of law," Ramirez said in a statement. "This arrangement with our UK counterpart will help us cooperate on privacy investigations more effectively.”

Ramirez talks EU too: Speaking at a privacy conference hosted by the International Association of Privacy Professionals on Thursday, Ramirez said the administration is engaged in productive conversations to increase the interoperability of the U.S. and European Union privacy regimes. Since last year’s revelations about U.S. government surveillance programs, European officials have called for the end to Safe Harbor, an FTC-enforced agreement between the U.S. and the EU that allows American tech companies to process data belonging to European citizens.

Despite the criticism it has received recently, the program is working, Ramirez said. “We have recently, just this year alone, brought 15 Safe Harbor cases, so we are committed to making sure that the program works effectively.”

Still, Ramirez said her agency recognizes that “there is room for improvement” and is “engaged in what I believe is very fruitful dialogue” with European officials to improve the program.

During her question-and-answer session Thursday, Ramirez discussed her hopes for a “Do Not Track” mechanism that would let users opt out of online tracking. She said a meaningful Do Not Track tool “needs to address collection and not just use.”

Although a group of privacy advocates, tech companies and online advertising groups brought together by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has, for years, failed to produce an industry-wide Do Not Track tool, Ramirez said she remains optimistic. “Good work continues to take place at the W3C,” where they are taking “an incremental approach,” she said.

Brill to talk privacy tomorrow: FTC Commissioner Julie Brill will speak at the IAPP conference Friday. Like Ramirez, Brill said she plans to touch on the major privacy issues currently in front of the commission: data security, mobile privacy and connected devices.

Brill said she plans to focus on the privacy concerns involving companies being able to collect and quickly analyze vast amounts of information about consumers. While some think companies should be in charge of determining how “risky” their analyses of consumers are, Brill said consumers need to have a say in what kind of algorithmic assessments are dangerous.

As an example, she pointed to a company that can study and digest innocuous information such as shopping history to determine health information, such as whether a person is pregnant, obese or suffering from cancer.

“To me, this is deeply sensitive information, and we need to have some rules,” Brill said.

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Civil liberties are a top concern at the National Security Agency (NSA), the agency’s new privacy chief said Thursday.

Privacy advocates are worried that Facebook’s $16 billion purchase of the messaging app WhatsApp might break promises about users' privacy and could violate the law.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee unveiled legislation Thursday that would reauthorize and update a law that governs the video marketplace.

A district court judge has denied Apple’s attempt for a permanent injunction against Samsung's devices, in a setback for the tech giant’s fight over patents.

 

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