The Privacy Misdirection

Posted by: Bob Quinn on May 27, 2016 at 8:02 am

Today, we will file our official comments in the Commission’s privacy proceeding. The fundamental message will be that the FCC should follow the FTC’s lead and adopt a notice and consent framework for privacy that is entirely consistent with the FTC framework that has governed since the inception of the Internet.  That is contrary to the FCC’s current proposal neatly summarized by FCC Chairman Wheeler at a recent hearing: “For decades, the Commission has steadfastly protected consumers against misuse of their information by [telephone companies] ….  It only makes sense that consumers should enjoy similar privacy protections in the world of broadband.”  The problem with the FCC’s current approach is that it doesn’t reflect the reality of how the internet actually works.

That “misperception” is captured by a wrong-headed conclusion in the NPRM that ISPs are uniquely in a position to develop highly detailed and comprehensive profiles of their customers.  It is just not true.  In a prior blog, I talked about Prof. Peter Swire’s paper commissioned to help educate the FCC on the different data collection capabilities of all the platforms operating in the internet ecosystem.  [Not] surprisingly, that paper was neither cited nor referenced in the NPRM.

So, it shouldn’t be a shock that a recent Future of Privacy Forum blog post explained that the FCC’s proposed rules reflect “a fundamental misunderstanding of the current online advertising ecosystem, which is fully capable of tracking individual behavior across the Internet as well as between devices.” The post visually illustrates how a consumer’s visit to a single website (WebMD.com) actually results in information being shared with, and received from, 24 third party sites. Once these connections are established, these ad networks are then able to track the consumer and link data about that consumer as she/he browses the internet. If the connection is to a party that has personal information about you (e.g., a social media or email platform), that third party can easily append this new web browsing information back to your personal profile of your internet activity. If the connection is made via a mobile device, the unique device advertising id allows the third party to add to or build a similar profile of the internet activity specific to that device.  So, when the Chairman testified that when you make a decision to access Google, WebMD or Facebook that “only one entity collects all of that information,” he was just flat out wrong.

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Privacy Regulation:
Symmetry or Asymmetry?

Posted by: Bob Quinn on March 9, 2016 at 1:51 pm

Last week, the five associations representing virtually all wireline and (non-WISP) mobile ISPs submitted a joint proposal to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on how to address the implications of applying Section 222 to broadband Internet access in the wake of the FCC’s ill-advised 2015 Title II Order.  As the filing explains, ISPs do not currently live in a “regulatory-free zone” when it comes to privacy, nor are we asking to live in one in the future.  Prior to the FCC’s Order, wireline and mobile ISPs provided service in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) privacy regime (which prohibits deceptive and unfair trade practices).  That regime also governed – and will continue to govern – the privacy practices of search providers, OS providers, browsers, apps, email providers and other tech companies who operate in the Internet ecosystem whether they collect and use customer data to provide services or to monetize that customer data  through advertising.

Under that regime, all major ISPs have enacted privacy policies which explain to consumers the information that ISPs collect and how that data is used.  At AT&T, we’ve continued to simplify our policy, including several years ago when we went to a single comprehensive privacy policy that describes plainly and simply the information we collect, how we collect it and how we use it.  I served several years as AT&T’s Chief Privacy Officer (until I was succeeded by Lori Fink, our current Chief Privacy Officer, last July) and can tell you first hand that we take customer privacy and how we communicate our polices to our customers seriously.

The FTC privacy regime presented a uniform approach to privacy that focused on customer transparency, disclosure and customer choice.  In fact, after the EU courts vacated the safe harbor provisions that had been in place governing data transfers between the U.S. and Europe, the U.S. Government went to great lengths to highlight to their EU counterparts that privacy enforcement by the FTC was equal to or stronger than privacy enforcement in Europe.  As privacy oversight for ISPs transfers from the FTC to the FCC as a direct result of the Title II Order, AT&T has and will continue to advocate for a framework that is based on the FTC approach.

Some groups, however, have argued that in fact the FCC needs to go much further than the current FTC framework in its treatment of ISPs. To get there, those groups have characterized ISPs as “gatekeepers,” asserted that ISPs (as opposed to companies like Google) are the real leaders of targeted advertising and, finally, argued that the Federal Trade Commission is, in essence, incompetent at policing privacy given the tools they have available.  With all due respect to those groups, their arguments are just not borne out by the facts. 

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AT&T Statement on House Passage of Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act

Posted by: AT&T Blog Team on July 15, 2014 at 5:04 pm

The following statement may be attributed to Tim McKone, AT&T Executive Vice President of Federal Relations:

“AT&T commends the House of Representatives for its passage of the Permanent Internet Tax Freedom Act, legislation that will continue to prohibit states from taxing access to the Internet.  With the vote today, the House declared that all Americans will have access to the Internet unencumbered by unwarranted taxes.

“We applaud Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Ranking Member Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) for their efforts to permanently extend the Internet Tax Freedom Act, and we encourage the Senate to quickly pass legislation.”

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The Continuing Evolution
Of the Global Internet

Posted by: AT&T Blog Team on March 14, 2014 at 8:43 pm

By Len Cali, AT&T Senior Vice President of Global Public Policy

Twenty-five… global… and surpassing expectations!  That’s the Internet, driving economic growth, job creation, education, and production efficiencies; and enriching our lives and our communities, all around the world.

The Internet works so well, and has expanded so quickly, that we tend to take for granted what made it possible.  All of this has been brought to citizens of the world by a private-sector-led, multistakeholder governance model that is flat, decentralized, and consensus-based.  Governments have a role, but so too do other interested and competent stakeholders including, perhaps most significantly, the experts and independent bodies that make crucial contributions to the technical operation of the Internet.

Early on, the U.S. government recognized the important role the private sector and Internet users play in managing the Internet’s core functions.  It supported efforts of the Internet community to form a private, dedicated, and nonprofit corporation to handle certain essential technical functions including responsibility for allocation of domain names and IP addresses, for protocols, and for root servers that together authoritatively map website names to IP addresses.  These functions comprise the Domain Name System (DNS) that is operated by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA).

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So, Why is there No Rural Email Completion Problem?

Posted by: Hank Hultquist on November 18, 2013 at 11:37 am

Just over a week ago, the FCC released an order intended to try and improve the rate at which long distance calls to rural areas are completed. That led to a somewhat cryptic tweet on which I now expand. (In today’s blog “email” is playing the role of Internet traffic in general.)

Have you heard the one about the five policy wonks who couldn’t agree on why there’s no rural email completion problem? The wireless guy challenged the premise of the question by arguing that it would only be an interesting question if the rural call completion problem actually existed. The ILEC guy said that of course there’s a rural email completion problem (that problem being that the ILEC is not getting paid to complete them). The Internet guy said that as long as there’s net neutrality, the end-to-end principle ensures that there can be no rural email completion problem. The right-wing think tank guy said that the free market prevents the emergence of a rural email completion problem. And the public interest guy said that even if there is no rural email completion problem, which he did not concede, the FCC should adopt rules to prohibit it. Ba dump bump!

But seriously folks, why is there no rural email completion problem? You’re probably expecting me to say that it’s because peering is unregulated, or because there’s no intercarrier compensation for email, or because email providers lack market power. And while all of those are true and important, I’d like to focus on a more fundamental distinction between the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and the Internet – the fact that there’s no such thing as “local Internet service.”

For a very long time (and to some extent even to this day), the voice world distinguished between “local exchange service” and “long distance service,” largely because they were regulatorily-driven constructs. The domain of the local service provider was required to end at some specific geographic point. It might be the exchange boundary, or maybe the LATA, or maybe even at a tandem switch. In any case, at that point responsibility for the transmission of a call, in either direction, passed from the local exchange carrier to the long distance carrier, or interexchange carrier (IXC). As a consequence of this distinction, long distance carriers became financially responsible for the transport path between rural exchanges and the rest of the PSTN.

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