Google, Facebook & Comcast Jointly Lied to California Lawmakers To Scuttle Broadband Privacy Bill

from the the-best-bullshit-money-can-buy dept

Earlier this year the GOP and Trump administration rushed to kill consumer broadband privacy rules. While the broadband industry cried like a colicky toddler when the rules were originally proposed, they were relatively modest — simply requiring that ISPs clearly disclose what they’re selling, who they’re selling it to, and provide working opt out tools. The rules were proposed after ISPs repeatedly showed they were incapable of self-regulating on this front (see Verizon’s zombie cookies, AT&T’s attempts to charge you more for privacy, and CableOne’s declaration it wanted to use credit scores to provide even worse customer support).

As a direct result of the GOP and Trump administrations attack on consumer privacy rules, more than a dozen states began proposing their own privacy rules to try and close the gap. While there’s a real threat of these state laws being downright bad and/or inconsistent, that’s probably something ISP lobbyists should have thought about before killing the FCC’s modest and more uniform rules. You might recall that the EFF threw its support behind California’s privacy law (AB 307, pdf), noting that it was solid enough to provide a template to other states for some uniformity on the consumer privacy protection front.

But thanks to some immense, cross-industry lobbying pressure, that proposal was killed back in Septmeber. In a new blog post, the EFF details precisely how Google and Facebook (under the blanket proxy of the Internet Association) joined forces with their historical nemeses in the broadband industry, using a rotating crop of outright lies to vilify the proposal:

“Big Telco?s opposition was hardly surprising. It was, after all, their lobbying efforts in Washington D.C. that repealed the privacy obligations they had to their customers. But it?s disappointing that after mostly staying out of the debate, Google and Facebook joined in opposing the restoration of broadband privacy for Californians despite the bill doing nothing about their core business models (the bill was explicitly about restoring ISP privacy rules). Through their proxy the Internet Association, which also represents companies like Airbnb, Amazon, Etsy, Expedia, LinkedIn, Netflix, Twitter, Yelp, and Zynga, among others?Google and Facebook locked arms with AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast to oppose this critical legislation. What is worse, they didn?t just oppose the bill, but lent their support to a host of misleading scare tactics.”

Among the bullshit used by these companies to kill the proposal included claims that the rules would somehow result in consumers being magically inundated by popups and all manner of new cyber threats, as this ad featuring a vulnerable toddler insists:

But this coagulation of lobbyists also repeatedly told lawmakers that the new rules would also only act to embolden nazis and extremists, another blatantly false claim. Documents submitted to lawmakers went so far as to use the recent violent attacks in Charlottesville as fear mongering fodder. From one “fact” sheet circulated to lawmakers in the state:

“This would mean that ISPs who inadvertently learned of a rightwing extremist or other violent threat to the public at large could not share that information with law enforcement without customer approval. Even IP address of bad actor [sic] could not be shared.

As the EFF points out, this claim wasn’t even remotely true.

AB 375 specifically carved out exceptions to consumer approval for any ?fraudulent, abusive, or unlawful use of the service.? The bill also included a ?catchall provision? that allowed ISPs to disclose information ?as otherwise required or authorized by law.? In other words, nothing in the bill even remotely got close to hampering law enforcement’s ability to do its job. The California Electronic Communications Privacy Act (CalECPA) also makes it clear that ISPs can disclose information to law enforcement provided it doesn?t run afoul of state or federal law. Of course Google and Facebook knew this — because they supported it.

Underneath all of this bullshit sits one undeniable truth. Silicon Valley and telecom giants didn’t like this bill for one reason: an informed, protected consumer is more likely to opt out of invasive behavioral tracking, costing the giants money. Of course a lobbyist can’t just come out and say this, so instead California lawmakers were inundated with all manner of distasteful, but clearly effective, bullshit. Bullshit most of them were willing to happily swallow to protect campaign contributions.

But as the EFF notes, the consumer broadband privacy problem isn’t going away, and is only going to get worse. The broadband industry isn’t competitive and in many areas cable’s monopoly over broadband is growing faster than ever, meaning less market pressure to behave. With no competition and the rise of rubber stamp regulators at Trump’s FCC and FTC, there’s little to nothing keeping these ISPs in check as they hoover up everything from user location and GPS data to everything you’re doing with your IOT devices.

Belief that mindless deregulation of the telecom sector is going to magically fix this problem remains an antiquated canard, as ongoing privacy violations in the space should be making abundantly clear. The FCC’s privacy rules, which would have taken effect back in March, were the very least we could do to protect these captive customers from privacy abuses. But thanks to joint lobbying by Silicon Valley giants and companies like Comcast, we’re now staring down the barrel of a very uncertain future. One where AT&T and Comcast make protecting your privacy a luxury option — if that option exists at all.

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Companies: facebook, google, internet association

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Comments on “Google, Facebook & Comcast Jointly Lied to California Lawmakers To Scuttle Broadband Privacy Bill”

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34 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: FCC -- our Savior

…so big corporations lobby & lie to government politicians/bureaucrats to get those government guys to do things in their favor. This is very normal politics and very normal government process.

Of course, government politicians/bureaucrats are all deeply honest and never lie to or deceive the public. Further, internet privacy & 4th Amendment rights are a very top priority for government officials — there’s no nefarious government snooping or warrantless searches going on anywhere at all(?) Who better to safeguard our internet privacy?

Therefore, we need our super-honest government politicians and regulators to control all these inherently dishonest corporate officials (?)
Leftists never see the fundamental flaw in their reasoning.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Narrowly?

EFF engages in some wishful thinking when it comes to hate speech:

“There is absolutely nothing true about this statement. A.B. 375 specifically said that an ISP can disclose information without customer approval for any “fraudulent, abusive, or unlawful use of the service.” More importantly, it also included what is often referred to as a “catchall provision” by allowing ISPs to disclose information “as otherwise required or authorized by law.””

Here’s the rub: Define unlawful. Careful now, because unless convicted of something, are you really SURE that it’s unlawful? Fraudulent? Same question, at what point is something legally fraudulent? Only when it’s actually proven?

The plain reading of the terms they point to suggests that in every case, the ISP can provide the information is and when a case is proven, and not just because they think there might be. That means that if, as an example, Google thinks that someone is planning a crime using their system, or is distributing hate speech, they would not be able to talk to authorities about it until (at bare minimum) charges had been laid. Otherwise, it doesn’t meet the plain reading of the rules.

It’s a big like the SESTA thing: Techdirt has read the rules to their strongest and most extreme application, and EFF is trying to read the rules to their softest and most forgiving level. EFF is expecting the law to somehow magically give a pass to ISPs and services when the rules say otherwise, and Mike and crew are expecting SESTA to interfere with everything and to cause major headaches for everyone.

Yet, both readings are honest but a bit wishful. Google and Facebook seemed concerned about getting their hands tied for no good reason, based on legislation that might not have had the desired effect. They took the extreme sort of reading that Mike has done with SESTA. Is that wrong? If it’s wrong for Google, is it not also wrong on Techdirt?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Narrowly?

Even if the law were written clearly, succinctly with little to no wiggle room (like that will ever happen) – there will still be those in key positions who will refuse to prosecute.

Apparently there are few willing and able to do anything about it. Criminals are allowed to walk the streets, live their lives and continue their criminal activity and they want to make it a crime to reveal their crimes.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Narrowly?

Exactly. It’s why I don’t buy into the whole “sky is falling” theory. Even well written laws (like RICO) have been spun and convoluted to achieve results that were never the intention of the law. Yet, many obvious crimes appear not to be prosecuted.

EFF seems to be asserting that nobody enforce the law ever, and Techdirt seems to be saying “everyone is going to jail!”. I have a hard time to believe either of them, their conclusions appear to be mostly self-serving.

Anonymous Coward says:

Only "disappointing" if believe corporations aren't totally evil.

Well, well. Here, I’m happy to state, is a piece against Google with some substance. Not enough, but it’s a start.

However, despite headline, it’s VERY light on blaming Google and Facebook — they’ve only joined forces with evil — starts and ends anti-ISP, naming Comcast and ATT as arch-villians as usual.

Oh, and key point: this is already OVER! Just retro-active blame trying to enhance Techdirt’s abysmal credibility, no future consequence, won’t ever be mentioned again.

Check this out for Techdirt’s actual past, present, and future position:
https://copia.is/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/sponsors.png

Bad sperring: “AB307” when the link goes to 375, and “Septmeber”.

And, Mrs Malaprop: “coagulation of lobbyists” is just bad writing. When done for humor, it’s hilarious; when as here straining for “creative”, it’s even more hilarious.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Only "disappointing" if believe corporations aren't totally evil.

The point is you bitching about an article criticizing Facebook and Google because there are apparently no articles criticizing Facebook and Google… despite the healthy presence of articles already doing so.

Seriously, you and MyNameHere need to get a room and get over yourselves. Shiva Ayyadurai lost. Zing!

Anonymous Coward says:

What's the point of hiding the "My_Name_Here" comment, and WHO did it?

Yet again, an on-topic comment well within common law is hidden because of… WHY? What unstated "rule" is violated?

The answer is that it dissents from Techdirt orthodoxy and an administrator okayed the censoring. Techdirt won’t state any guidelines for commenting, won’t state numbers of alleged clicks out of how many read the piece, nor even whether an administrator approves — because Techdirt is CHICKEN, won’t take any responsibility.

I tell you again, kids, "hiding" comments that are on topic and well within common law riles even more than you believe. Reasonable people leave as it’s clearly the goal of fanboys and Administrators is to run off anyone dissenting with this sneaky tactic.

Which proves that the goal of Techdirt isn’t to start discussion, but to put out propaganda — PAID FOR by corporations in the graphic at the Copia link.


By the way, what exactly means the "Free Speech edition" that was noted Monday, who/what sponsored that, and why is free speech OFF again as usual today?

Here’s what was up Monday: "The Free Speech edition of Techdirt is an ongoing project supported by various sponsors. As always, Techdirt retains full editorial over all our content and takes no direction in choosing what to publish. We thank our sponsors for supporting our independent coverage of SLAPP suits, chilling effects, and other serious threats to freedom of speech."

Guess hiding comments here isn’t regarded as a "serious threat to freedom of speech", since by definition the only comments hidden are from Nazis and cave-men opposing the illumination of Techdirt; even so, to dissenters, hiding is disadvantage amounting to censorship.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What's the point of hiding the "My_Name_Here" comment, and WHO did it?

Hiding isn’t “disappearing” or “shadowbanning”. If this comments section was as “fair” as reddit is, I wouldn’t have bothered posting a single comment.

I look at every hidden post. Some are trolls, some vilify political stances, some are just commenters that keep annoying a lot of others.

But their comments don’t disappear, so at least you can see why the community wanted it hidden in the first place. A lot of the time, I disagree with hiding, too. As open as this comments section is, it still privately belongs to someone else, and they chose the methods of which comments can be hidden away.

Now, if Techdirt started stopping people from commenting in public venues, that’s another issue altogether.

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Re: Re: What's the point of hiding the "My_Name_Here" comment, and WHO did it?

The point, of course, is that hiding a comment that is otherwise valid because you don’t like the person or don’t like the point raised is pretty much the direct opposite of free speech.

Moreover, if you were only hiding it for yourself (say, ignore all of my comments) it wouldn’t matter. But a small number of votes perhaps weighted on the age of the account or if they are paying members can change what everyone else sees. Other people are making the choice for you. If you want to read my comments, you have to make additional effort to do so, not because you want to, but because someone else deemed my comments somehow offensive to their worldview.

That is never fair.

As a side note, Techdirt also has what the euphemistically call the spam filter. They can add IP addresses in there and then every comment you make is held for moderation. It also appears to flag by user, adding any IP that users end up on. That isn’t flagging, that is literally stopping people from posting equally in public venues. Yes, they usually release the comments and publish them, but generally after the conversation has ebbed and flowed, to the point that the comment may either be not relevant or just unread.

I spent month behind that. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch people who claim to be the bastions of free speech engaged in such a backhanded campaign to stop opinions they don’t like.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: What's the point of hiding the "My_Name_Here" comment, and WHO did it?

The point, of course, is that hiding a comment that is otherwise valid because you don’t like the person or don’t like the point raised is pretty much the direct opposite of free speech.

So long as you keep intentionally attacking the strawman position of ‘people are just flagging posts because they don’t like the person or what they said’ don’t be surprised if you keep getting your comment flagged and/or ignored. Most flagging is pretty obviously due to the content, and if people are flagging a particular person’s comments simply because it’s them it’s probably because that person has given good reason to be flagged in the past, and to ignore that and act as though one is not tied to the other is dishonest. Reputations have consequences.

And of course you decided to go on about how the spam filter is a filter for censorship, as though TD cares enough about individual posters to target them out, but not enough to not post their comments at all, rather than the system working on it’s own and them getting to comments caught when they can, because while people may have not bought it the first hundred… ish… times surely the hundred and first time will convince people!

MyNameHere (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 What's the point of hiding the "My_Name_Here" comment, and WHO did it?

If you don’t think that Techdirt “cares” about individual posters, then you missed a lot. Do you think the out of the blue types disappear willingly?

I’ll let you think about it.

As for “censorship by flagging”, It’s one of those things. Are you saying that I shouldn’t mention the elephant in the room, because it might suddenly shit on me? I am long since past caring about it in many ways. But it’s important for people to understand what happens when you don’t agree with the views expressed.

It’s why flagging tools (like upvoting) tends to end up being self defeating. It ends up polishing the echo chamber and muting out opposing or unpopular views, rather than considering them – and making it harder for others to read them, see them, or consider them.

Most importantly, on a site that is about free speech, anything that limits the speech of anyone in any way is in direct opposition to the ideals of free speech. But that’s okay, free speech apparently isn’t for everyone! 🙂

LhwEh3Sa0y says:

Invasive behavioural tracking *is* the business model of Google and Facebook. Once that goes the entire house of cards will fall. It is not surprising that they will say and do anything to oppose efforts to stem their data theft.

While our corrupt politicians corruptly act against our interests in exchange for cash – use technological measures, such as a VPN, browser plugins and open source software (e.g. Firefox, Linux), to reduce the impact. Encourage others to do the same. Also don’t support the corrupt politicians that are selling us out.

At the very least, don’t use fucking Crome.

Isma'il says:

Re: Re:

Amen. I don’t use Google, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, etc and second the notion that Chrome should be avoided.

One thing I’m glad to see is that there are at least 2 browsers that have VPN capability built-in: Epic Privacy Browser and the new versions of Opera.

I do agree that using a full-blown VPN is a must though. Most of the time, I’m attached to an Icelandic or Swiss server.

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