FTC orders broadband companies to hand over info on privacy practices

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is ordering the nation’s largest broadband providers to turn over information on their handling of consumer data as the agency launches an extensive review of privacy practices.

Comcast, Verizon and AT&T were among the companies that received orders from the FTC following a 5-0 vote by the agency's commissioners.

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The FTC said the information would be used to compile a special report on the broadband industry’s privacy practices.

The extensive inquiries ask the companies how they collect user data, what they do with it and who they share it with.

The effort could shed light on the lucrative and often opaque trafficking of user data for targeted advertising.

It’s the FTC’s first major endeavor to flex its oversight powers over broadband providers since the industry came under its jurisdiction after the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) repeal of net neutrality rules went into effect last year.

“We welcome this step by the Federal Trade Commission to examine broadband providers’ privacy practices,” FCC spokeswoman Tina Pelkey said in a statement. “It could not have occurred without the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order, and the FTC’s focus on the evolution of broadband providers into ‘vertically integrated platforms that also provide advertising-supported content’ highlights the advantages of having a single agency able to police the entire Internet ecosystem with respect to the important issue of privacy.”

Margaret Boles, a spokeswoman for AT&T, also responded, saying in an emailed statement: “Our customers’ privacy is important to us, and the FTC plays a critical role in privacy regulation. In fact, we continue to support comprehensive federal legislation to protect consumers’ data throughout the internet ecosystem, and the FTC is the logical agency to enforce that legislation. If the FTC has any questions for us, we will respond appropriately.”

A spokesman for Verizon said the company was reviewing the inquiry.