Federal Trade Commission stakes out ground in set-top box debate

The Federal Trade Commission says it should have a hand in enforcing privacy rules that would be part of a proposed new set of regulations for the set-top box market.

Video providers like Comcast or Time Warner Cable would have to provide their video feeds to outside companies that wanted to make boxes or applications to allow customers to access video content under the Federal Communications Commission proposal.

The FCC has proposed that those feeds would only be offered to companies that had self-certified they were in compliance with some of the privacy rules that currently apply to video providers.


FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Jessica Rich said in comments submitted Friday afternoon that the FCC should only allow companies to access the feeds if they also tell customers in a prominent way that they are bound by the privacy rules. That, she argued, would allow the FTC to bring enforcement actions against companies that violated their promise to consumers.

“The FTC’s deception authority is clearly implicated by certifications to consumers,” she said. “Examples of enforceable statements to consumers could include statements within privacy policies, on other portions of a consumer facing website, on a retail box, on the device itself, or in the user interface of the device.

“In any scenario, the third-party set-top box manufacturers should make a representation to consumers that their set-top boxes will offer the same privacy protections that the cable and satellite privacy statutes require.”

The comments indicate the ways in which the FTC and FCC have seen their interests collide when it comes to privacy issues.

The FTC has traditionally policed privacy violations at American companies. But the FCC, when it approved net neutrality rules last year, claimed the right to enforce privacy rules for internet service providers. Proposed privacy rules are currently being formally considered by the agency.

Both agencies have made an effort to demonstrate that they want to work together. In November, officials at both agencies signed on to a memorandum of understanding that says, in part, that “the FCC and FTC wish to continue working together to protect consumers and the public interest and, in so doing, avoid duplicative, redundant, or inconsistent oversight in these areas” and sets ground rules for how the agencies will work together.