AT&T, Comcast defend repeal of internet privacy rules

AT&T, Comcast defend repeal of internet privacy rules
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AT&T and Comcast are among those defending a Republican effort to eliminate Obama-era privacy rules on internet service providers, accusing critics of being misinformed.

In a blog post on Friday, Bob Quinn, AT&T’s top lobbyist said “it is not surprising that some folks are ignoring the facts.”

And in a separate post, Comcast’s chief privacy officer and deputy general counsel Gerard Lewis argued that the company’s privacy policy remains stronger than what the rules called for.

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Verizon chief privacy officer Karen Zacharia also came out with a post, writing that the company "does not sell the personal web browsing history of our customers."

"Consumers benefit and innovations flourish when there is one consistent consumer privacy framework that applies to all internet companies and users in the internet ecosystem," Zacharia wrote. "That is what Congress voted for this week."

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules would have required internet service providers to treat consumer data like browsing history and financial and medical information as “sensitive” and obtain permission from customers before using or sharing that data to create targeted advertisements.

Republicans in Congress this month voted to eliminate those rules under a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution before they went into effect, and President Trump is expected to sign the bill.

The move has sparked outrage from consumer groups and Democrats.

Quinn wrote that the outcry following the votes to repeal the rules is overblown.

“First and foremost, all of the rhetoric that asserts — without any factual support — that the CRA vote suddenly eliminated consumer privacy protections is just plain wrong,” he said. The reality is that the FCC’s new broadband privacy rules had not yet even taken effect."

“There has been a lot of misleading talk about how the congressional action this week to overturn the regulatory overreach of the prior FCC will now permit us to sell sensitive customer data without customers’ knowledge or consent,” added Lewis. “This is just not true.”

Lewis also said that Comcast would be revising its privacy policy to “make more clear and prominent that, contrary to the many inaccurate statements and reports, we do not sell our customers’ individual web browsing information to third parties.”

AT&T and the rest of the telecom industry had lobbied against the rules since before they were voted on by the FCC, arguing in part that they unfairly apply privacy standards to internet service providers that don’t cover websites that also collect user data for targeted ads, like Facebook and Google.

“If the government believes that location data is sensitive and requires more explicit consumer disclosures and permissions, then those protections should apply to all players that have access to location data, whether an ISP or edge player or search engine,” Quinn wrote.

Major internet service providers want the Federal Trade Commission to be the sole regulator for internet privacy, just as it was before the FCC reclassified those companies as telecommunications services under the 2015 net neutrality rules, which required providers to treat all internet traffic equally.

“Hopefully, this week’s action by Congress gets us back on the path to a more rational and consumer-friendly framework,” Quinn wrote. “I am also hopeful that facts actually work their way back into the debate.”

Updated: 3:05 p.m.