California Sides With Comcast, Votes To Kill Broadband Privacy Law Favored By EFF

from the who-needs-privacy-anyway dept

You'll recall that earlier this year, AT&T, Verizon and Comcast successfully lobbied the GOP and Trump administration to kill consumer broadband privacy protections that were supposed to take effect last March. While big ISPs engaged in breathless hysteria about the "draconian" nature of the rules, the restrictions were quite modest -- simply requiring ISPs be transparent about what user data gets collected and sold. They also made it more difficult for big ISPs to charge users significantly more money just to opt out of private data collection, an idea both AT&T and Comcast have already flirted with.

But in quickly axing the rules, big ISPs --- and the regulators and lawmakers paid to love them -- got a bit more than they bargained for. The ham-fisted rush to kill the protections quickly resulted in more than a dozen states passing a patchwork collection of new state laws aimed at protecting broadband consumers. Among the most notable was California Assemblyman Ed Chau's AB 375 (pdf). The proposal largely mirrors the FCC's proposal, though it took an even harder stance against ISPs looking to abuse the lack of competition to effectively make privacy a paid, premium option.

The law quickly received praise from the EFF, which argued that the law would be a good template for other states moving forward, lessening the chance for over-reaching, inconsistent, and poorly written state measures. But large ISPs, Facebook and Google lobbyists quickly got to work demonizing Chau's proposal too, falsely claiming it would somehow weaken user security and magically increase pop ups all over the internet. These and other claims were recently picked apart in an EFF blog post:

"The prediction of "recurring pop-ups" is also false because if anything, the bill would "likely result in fewer pop-ups, not to mention fewer intrusive ads during your everyday browser experience," Gillula wrote. "That’s because A.B. 375 will prevent Internet providers from using your data to sell ads they target to you without your consent—which means they’ll be less likely to insert ads into your Web browsing, like some Internet providers have done in the past.."

But the lobbying had its intended effect, and California lawmakers voted to kill the effort in a night vote over the weekend:

"It is extremely disappointing that the California legislature failed to restore broadband privacy rights for residents in this state in response to the Trump Administration and Congressional efforts to roll back consumer protection,” EFF Legislative Counsel Ernesto Falcon said. “Californians will continue to be denied the legal right to say no to their cable or telephone company using their personal data for enhancing already high profits. Perhaps the legislature needs to spend more time talking to the 80% of voters that support the goal of A.B. 375 and less time with Comcast, AT&T, and Google's lobbyists in Sacramento.”

While the proposal can be reintroduced next year, fighting upstream against the collective lobbying firepower of massive ISPs and Silicon Valley giants like Facebook and Google has proven no easy task. And there have been some comments from FCC Commissioners that they may try and use FCC authority to hamstring these efforts as well. You see, it's a "states rights" issue if you try to prevent states from letting ISP lobbyists write protectionist law hamstringing competition, but those concerns magically disappear when states move to actually protect consumers from duopoly harm.

It's worth re-iterating that ISPs spent years arguing consumers didn't need added privacy protections because the sector would self-regulate. Of course, Verizon subsequently highlighted the folly of such claims when it was busted modifying user packets to track users around the internet without telling them. AT&T similarly did the same when it began charging users $400 to $550 more per year to opt out of behavioral advertising. And other, smaller cable companies like CableONE joined the fun when they proclaimed they'd be using consumer financial data to provide worse customer service to bad credit customers.

The origins of this aggressively bad behavior? The lack of competition in the broadband space. And with the Trump administration looking to effectively gut all oversight of one of the least-competitive and least-liked sectors in American industry, anybody thinking these privacy issues will magically resolve themselves (instead of say, just getting progressively worse) hasn't been paying attention.

Filed Under: broadband, california, fcc, privacy


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  1. icon
    Mason Wheeler (profile), 19 Sep 2017 @ 8:49am

    It's worth re-iterating that ISPs spent years arguing consumers didn't need added privacy protections because the sector would self-regulate.

    I'd be more inclined to agree with this argument if there were any precedent, but when has any powerful industry ever actually done so?


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