The cable industry has made no secret of its opposition to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler's proposal for new set-top-box rules that would enable consumers to more easily watch TV on smartphones, tablets and other devices.
As soon as the plan was unveiled, the industry group Future of TV Coalition began lobbying that new rules were unnecessary because consumers already can stream (some) programs to tablets and smartphones via apps.
Today, the cable industry launched a new attack on the plan: It marks an "an assault on consumer privacy" that will allow "privacy scofflaws like Google" to collect yet more data about people.
The regulations "will strip viewers of vital safeguards for their viewing choices and add 'what we watch' to the mountains of data being mined and exploited by privacy scofflaws like Google, alongside their existing files of what we search for on the Internet; what we say in our gmail at home, work, and school; what happens in our 'Nest'-connected homes; and where we go using Waze and Google Maps," the cable industry group Future of TV Coalition says today in a new blog post.
Supporters of the proposal say it could increase competition while also making it easier for consumers to access all content -- pay-TV as well as online video -- from the same navigation device. Also, the proposal would make it simpler for consumers to watch pay TV on a host of different devices. On top of everything else, the plan could save consumers hefty cable-box rental fees -- which now total an estimated $20 billion a year.
Google supports the plan, but the company isn't the only one. Consumer organizations like Public Knowledge also back the plan, as do editorial boards of major newspapers like The New York TimesandChicago Tribune.
Wheeler recently told the Washington Post that any proposal regarding set-top boxes will include privacy regulations.
But the cable industry says the FCC isn't empowered to impose privacy restrictions on tech companies like Google.
"The Chairman’s approach creates a gaping hole in consumer privacy where none exists today, and leaves our personal viewing histories at the mercy of vast businesses built almost entirely on mining, exploiting, and profiling our personal data," the Future of TV Coalition writes. "It would be the biggest step backwards for consumer privacy ever enacted by the FCC."
AT&T -- which has unnerved privacy advocates by charging some U-Verse subscribers higher fees to avoid tracking for ad-targeting purposes -- chimes in that the proposal threatens privacy by enabling Google to collect additional information about consumers.
"I keep hearing that we shouldn’t worry about privacy because Google will be subject to 'similar' rules as cable and satellite, or that they’d be subject to other federal and state rules," AT&T vice president Stacy Fuller writes today in a blog post. Fuller goes on to say that the Communications Act requires only satellite and cable providers to obtain consumers' prior written consent to use subscribers' "individual viewing history or other personally identifiable information for things like targeted advertising."
Fuller adds that any rules the FCC may apply to Google and other companies don't include those mandates.