After weeks of spin denying that his set top box proposal would create a black hole for privacy protections, the FCC Chairman now tells us not to worry because he will insist that Google “voluntarily” commit to the same privacy protections to which the rest of us are bound by FCC rules.

This astounding statement begs some unpacking.  And some perspective.

Let’s recall that this is the same Commission that rejected industry assurances of voluntary compliance with net neutrality principles.  Chairman Wheeler insisted that was insufficient, that the agency had to have “enforceable rules.”

This is also the same FCC that has said Federal Trade Commission privacy standards are insufficient, arguing the FCC must apply its own “enforceable rules”, quite possibly because they intend to impose a standard higher than that to which Google and others are held. And now we face the Chairman’s energetic endorsement of a Google proposal that it be allowed to co-opt and repackage as its own video content licensed and assembled by others, paying nothing to anyone for the infrastructure, content, or anything else, ignoring negotiated contracts and copyright protections … and unchecked by the rules that safeguard consumer privacy.  But, rest assured, the Chairman is ready to accept Google’s voluntary assurances.

The problem here is obvious.  Government policy, honorably made, does not involve double standards.

If the FCC cannot accept voluntary assurances on net neutrality principles, insisting it must have “enforceable rules”, then it should apply that argument consistently.  It cannot get into the business of deciding whose voluntary assurances it will accept, and whose it will not.  Yet somehow, this FCC Chairman seems perfectly willing to accept totally unenforceable voluntary assurances from Google – which harvests more personal and private information from American citizens than any other entity – while insisting other companies cannot be trusted and can only be constrained by regulation.

This is a blatant and insupportable double standard.

I still want to believe in the good faith of this agency.  But events test hopes.  Either this FCC believes in the principles it enunciates or it does not.  Either it is a nonpartisan, expert agency, or it is not.  It will either operate with independence from political pressures, or it will not.  But it cannot pretend to unbiased policy when it says some companies may be trusted to make voluntary commitments, while other, less favored, companies must be bound by rules.

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