Following Facebook, Verizon Quietly Backs Off Opposition To Modest California Privacy Rules
from the sunlight-is-the-best-disinfectant dept
If you missed it, large ISPs like Verizon, with the help of the Trump administration and GOP, worked to quickly kill FCC privacy protections before they could take effect last year. Those rules were arguably modest by any measure, simply requiring that ISPs transparently disclose what data is being collected and who it’s being sold to, while providing users working opt out tools (or opt in tools if dealing with sensitive consumer financial data). Those rules, you’ll recall, were only proposed after ISPs repeatedly made it clear they were utterly unwilling and unable to self-regulate on the privacy front.
ISPs like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast were given ample leeway on privacy for years. Our reward was covert efforts to track users around the internet without telling them, and repeated efforts to charge users more if they wanted to protect their own privacy. Large ISPs had every opportunity to avoid regulation and self-regulate. They showed us repeatedly this was beyond their capabilities. Limited broadband competition routinely protected them from any repercussions, and revolving-door regulators have now completed the circle of dysfunction.
Much like we’re seeing on net neutrality, this hostility to real consumer privacy protections on the federal level resulted in multiple states devising their own consumer protections. Like in California, where lawmakers attempted to push a privacy law that largely mirrored the FCC’s effort. And while Google, Facebook, Comcast, AT&T and Verizon will all breathlessly tell you they support meaningful privacy reform, the EFF documented in great detail how they worked together last year to quietly scuttle the initiative. Largely by lying about what it actually did:
“One of the most offensive aspects of the misinformation campaign was the claim that pretending to restore our privacy rights, which have been on the books for communications providers for years, would help extremism…In materials like this advertisement, the opposition lobby claimed that A.B. 375 would result in a deluge of pop-ups that consumers would have to click through, and that in turn this inundation would create a sort of privacy fatigue. Consumers would stop caring, and cybersecurity would suffer.
Comcast, Facebook, Verizon and Google all donated $200,000 each to help hamstring the effort. And while successful, they’re now facing another push for a new, very similar initiative that should show up on California voter ballots this November. Again, despite industry face-fanning and pearl clutching there’s not much that’s controversial about it (you can read more about the act here), with the primary goal being transparency and ensuring consumers have the ability to opt out.
But when the Cambridge Analytica story broke, and actually caring about privacy became en vogue for a brief moment, the public spotlight forced Facebook to quietly slink away away from its opposition to the effort in California. Now Verizon, who is trying to make inroads in marketing via its Oath subsidiary (the combination of AOL and Yahoo), has also been forced to quietly back off opposition in the wake of media attention. A Verizon spokesperson makes it clear that, much like the net neutrality fight, the company’s goal is to lobby for weak federal protections that pre-empt tougher state ones:
“Verizon has decided not to continue with the coalition so that we can focus our efforts on creating a national framework for privacy and related issues — and not a state-by-state approach,” a spokesman says.”
Again, all of these giant companies will breathlessly tell you they support meaningful privacy protections for consumers. But the reality is that any effort to empower and inform consumers erodes revenues, since it will increase the chance that users opt out of data collection and monetization efforts. That’s why no matter how frequently you’ll see companies like Verizon and Facebook insist they’re interested in “solutions” to the wild west that is currently consumer privacy, it remains routinely difficult to take them seriously in any meaningful capacity.