On Friday, we filed comments with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on privacy issues in today’s mobile world.  In May, the Commission put out a public notice seeking information on the measures wireless service providers take to protect customers’ information on mobile devices. As the Commission acknowledges, the wireless marketplace today is a far cry from what it was five years ago when the agency last looked into this area.
 
In addition to wireless service providers, the whole wireless ecosystem has evolved to include device manufacturers, OS and social networking platform providers, search engines and browsers, and application developers – all of whom play critical roles in protecting the privacy and security of consumers’ personal information.
 
Think about the extraordinary range of services available to consumers on their mobile device these days, including talking on the phone, sending e-mails and text messages, a dizzying array of apps, posting on their favorite social networking site, surfing the Internet to see what their favorite bloggers have to say, tweeting or following their friends’ tweets, watching videos, listening to music, seeing what great restaurants are nearby, getting directions on a map to that new boutique your friend just tweeted on, sharing and storing photos, and much more.
 
The relevance of the FCC’s privacy rules, which apply only to legacy services defined as “telecommunications services,” is shrinking by the day.  In today’s world, Consumers are buying smartphones, tablets and other devices that are more computer than telephone. And they’re increasingly communicating with one another online via text, Skype, Google Voice, Facebook and Apple’s FaceTime – none of which falls into the “telecommunications services” service bucket that comprises the traditional scope of the FCC’s jurisdiction. Would a consumer have any clue that different privacy rules apply depending on which type of communications service or application they choose? If you set a rule that applies only to service providers, is the consumer’s data really protected when that rule does not apply to any of the other entities described above?
 
So, in order to provide a level playing field in this new marketplace and thoughtfully address privacy issues, policymakers should take into account all the different ways real folks communicate in the 21st century – not just one player in that ecosystem which is the traditional way the FCC is empowered to view the world. And any government oversight must be applied equally and fairly. Any regulatory disparity will skew competition and ultimately deny consumers the benefits of real advances in privacy and security protections.
 
And that’s why we were pleased when the White House earlier this year unveiled a consumer privacy “blueprint” that encourages a multi-stakeholder approach to develop voluntary codes of conduct for the entire industry. The blueprint takes a comprehensive and flexible approach to our rapidly growing digital world and proposes that the voluntary industry codes of conduct be enforced by one federal agency with jurisdiction over all players – the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
 
As the White House privacy blueprint recognizes, flexible approaches to privacy that involve the entire industry and other stakeholders is going to be much more effective than rigid regulation in safeguarding consumer privacy. Of course, there is already an enforcement backstop for privacy. The FTC has devoted substantial resources to mobile privacy issues and, in fact, has increased its oversight in this space in recent years.
 
At AT&T, we are committed to helping develop voluntary codes of conduct that would apply to all players in the wireless ecosystem to safeguard customers’ personal information.  We have developed industry-leading, robust and transparent policies and programs that apply to all AT&T services and data. We have developed a consolidated, streamlined privacy policy that is easy to find and easy to understand how we collect, protect and use customers’ information.
 
We’re proud of the role we play in the mobile ecosystem and we take very seriously our responsibility to protect the privacy and security of our customers. We look forward to continuing to work with our industry partners and government agencies on a comprehensive, effective and fair mobile privacy framework.

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