Congress Fails To Include A Single Consumer Advocate In Upcoming Privacy Hearing

from the ill-communication dept

As the U.S. ponders what meaningful privacy protections should look like in the Comcast & Cambridge Analytica era, it should probably go without saying that consumers should be part of that conversation. Unsurprisingly, that hasn’t really been the case so far. That was exemplified, in part, by the GOP’s decision to neuter FCC broadband privacy rules much the same way they dismantled net neutrality: by ignoring any consumer-oriented input that didn’t gel with their pre-existing beliefs: namely that all regulation is always bad and a nuanced conversation on the merits of each instance of regulation simply isn’t necessary.

When a “conversation” does occur, it tends to be superficial at best, and consumers pretty consistently aren’t invited to the table. Case in point: on September 26, the Senate Commerce Committee will be holding a hearing entitled “Examining Safeguards for Consumer Data Privacy.” One of the motivating reasons for this hearing, at least according to Senator John Thune, was because “consumers deserve clear answers” on privacy:

“Consumers deserve clear answers and standards on data privacy protection,? said Thune. ?This hearing will provide leading technology companies and internet service providers an opportunity to explain their approaches to privacy, how they plan to address new requirements from the European Union and California, and what Congress can do to promote clear privacy expectations without hurting innovation.”

It’s odd then, that not a single consumer or consumer advocacy group was invited to appear at said hearing, according to the EFF:

“…the Committee is seeking only the testimony of big tech and Internet access corporations: Amazon, Apple, AT&T, Charter Communications, Google, and Twitter. Some of these companies have spent heavily to oppose consumer privacy legislation and have never supported consumer privacy laws. They know policymakers are considering new privacy protections, and are likely to view this hearing as a chance to encourage Congress to adopt the weakest privacy protections possible?and eviscerate stronger state protections at the same time.”

Regardless of whether you think new privacy rules are necessary, it goes without saying that consumers should have some voice in the process. Instead, Congress pretty clearly prefers a round table where companies that have spent the better part of the last decade trying to avoid meaningful privacy protections get to dictate the course and cadence of the conversation. AT&T thinks it’s a good idea to charge consumers more to protect their own privacy. Google and Facebook, meanwhile, have been working in concert with the telecom sector to scuttle state-level efforts on privacy, no matter what they look like.

Like net neutrality, the Trump era attack on federal consumer protections (like the GOP’s dismantling of modest FCC broadband privacy rules last year) has opened the door to numerous states rushing to fill the oversight vacuum. The end result, as we’ve seen in California, tends to be rushed bills that over-reach (as opposed to the FCC’s broadband privacy rules, which took years to craft). All the while, the tech press adores tap dancing around the fact that this current administration and Congressional majority couldn’t care less about meaningful consumer protections.

Yes, some of these state efforts are terrible. And yes, it would be easy for federal rules to be equally bad. Especially when the crafting process is largely being driven by cross-industry gamesmanship (the telecom industry, for example, has covertly undermined its alliance with Silicon Valley and is pushing for rules that screw over their video ad competitors like Google, but leave giant ISPs free to do as they wish). That said, it shouldn’t be assumed that meaningful privacy protections are impossible, especially given the Congressional status quo shake up that may be just over the horizon.

Another truth the tech press enjoys tap dancing around is the fact that none of the companies invited to this round table want serious privacy rules impacting them, even if they’re well-crafted. Informed, educated, empowered consumers are more likely to opt-out of data collection and monetization, and you’d be hard pressed to find any major company that’s eager to lose billions as these consumers dodge being tracked and sold to.

Without consumer groups at the table, these are the kind of facts that tend to get lost in the shuffle, and the entire conversation tends to shift to why privacy rules kill innovation and aren’t necessary, and not what real privacy consumer protections might look like. Again, because as it stands now, none of the folks at this hearing are actually interested in real rules that protect consumers. They’re interested in either no rules at all, or flimsy federal rules that pre-empt more meaningful state-level protections. And many of the politicians at this hearing aren’t interested in privacy at all, they’re simply eager to hammer Silicon Valley over perceived, frequently hallucinated, partisan censhorship claims that have nothing to do with privacy.

Sure, maybe meaningful privacy protections are impossible, either due to government’s failure to adapt to quickly changing markets, or outright corruption. But by omitting consumer groups from the conversation, it’s being made abundantly clear that this isn’t a serious effort one way or another, with the end result being more of an echo chamber than any meaningful policy discussion.

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Comments on “Congress Fails To Include A Single Consumer Advocate In Upcoming Privacy Hearing”

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20 Comments
Dee Plinks says:

So, federal rules likely dangerous and impossible?

I’ll note in passing that looks good when you admit Google and others are anti-privacy. However, that’s given only light focus. You start by saying is bad idea:

And yes, it would be easy for federal rules to be equally bad. Especially when the crafting process is largely being driven by cross-industry gamesmanship

Sure, maybe meaningful privacy protections are impossible, either due to government’s failure to adapt to quickly changing markets, or outright corruption.

That’s one line of your attack: say that any legislation will be bad…

Then you assert that the REALLY evil, WAY worse than the ones listed, corporations are:

(the telecom industry, for example, has covertly undermined its alliance with Silicon Valley and…

Which EVIL sector has what goal?

…is pushing for rules that screw over their video ad competitors like Google

Therefore, this is yet more defense of Google.

Summary of your view: Don’t do anything federal or state level because it’ll be bad; it’s just the EVIL telecom industry trying to gain advantage over Google.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: So, federal rules likely dangerous and impossible?

Well, if you keep one eye closed the the other squinting tightly and wave your ‘Techdirt Loves Google Filter™’ (which has a small but committed market) furiously, one could see it that way.

On the other hand, the article referenced the EFF, who to my knowledge has no taint with regard to their love of the Google, but who complain about the lack of consumer groups being invited to a meeting where consumers are going to be discussed certainly seems poignant. Did you miss those parts of the article and only see what you wanted to see?

Letting only industry have input over consumer issues is likely dangerous, to consumers, but not impossible to imagine given the makeup of this meeting and in the light of both hard and soft money in politics.

David says:

It would be unethical to include consumer representatives

After all, you cannot in good conscience accept bribes from groups with opposite interests.

Accepting a salary from one group and bribes from another is what political ethics mandate. That way there is no conflict of interest since the salary traditionally does not involve an expectation to work in the interest of constituents since, as opposed to bribes, it comes with no strings attached. There are elections to ensure that the citizens give their money away to the most charismatic of the political class, making them as happy about being ruled as to be expected from prey species.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It would be unethical to include consumer representatives

Accepting a salary from one group and bribes from another is what political ethics mandate. That way there is no conflict of interest since the salary traditionally does not involve an expectation to work in the interest of constituents since, as opposed to bribes, it comes with no strings attached. There are elections to ensure that the citizens give their money away to the most charismatic of the political class, making them as happy about being ruled as to be expected from prey species.

Well, at least you’re honest about just how subhuman and deserving of nothing you view others.

Considering that, I’ll tell you what I honestly think: That scum like you are broken individuals who need to be purged from society like the cancer you are. That society needs to own up to it’s mistakes and correct them rather than allow them to fester unopposed, or rot in a cell at society’s expense knowing full well they will continue their reign of terror if they ever get out.

You are morally and ethically bankrupt, and you have no place in modern society.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Suuuure he did

Three million votes. That’s roughly how many votes would have had to have been cast by illegal aliens in that scenario, and voter fraud of even half that magnitude would have been front page news in every paper and on every news site had there been evidence of it.

And yet, strangely enough, other than claims such as yours I don’t seem to remember seeing any evidence supporting that idea, despite the fact that the sheer volume of voter fraud would have left countless trails and piles of evidence such that any even remotely competent investigation would have been tripping over evidence left and right.

Or in tl;dr form: [Citation Needed] or Hitchen’s Razor.

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