Commentary

Locking The Door And Leaving The Window Open

Here’s one more sleazy event in an already cynical season. President Donald R. Trump signed a resolution on Monday, rolling back Obama-era privacy protections that had not yet taken hold. Congress had earlier passed resolutions to that effect.

And now the big broadband providers, the ones that seemed to crave this freedom to sell data on consumers, no questions asked, are acting hurt. “Pity the poor foxes in charge of the hen house,” Ryan Grenoble wrote; on Huffington Post.

Take the announcement put out last week by AT&T. The headline said "Reversing Obama’s FCC Regulations: A Path to Consumer-Friendly Privacy Protections. “

AT&T argued that its privacy protections "are the same today as they were five months ago when the FCC rules were adopted. We had the same protections in place the day before the Congressed resolution was passed, and we will have the same protections the day after President Trump signs the CRA into law. The Congressional action had zero effete on the privacy protections afforded to consumers.”

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Wait a minute: Didn’t AT&T’s headline say that reversing Obama’s regulations was a “path to consumer-friendly privacy protections?” How can it say that the rollback had no effect at all? You can’t have it both ways.

Meanwhile, as Grenoble has noted, Comcast promises that it has "committed not to share our customers’ sensitive information (such as banking, children’s, and health information), unless we first obtain their affirmative, opt-in consent." Get it? Only the most confidential material is protected. It’s not clear what the broadband providers will do. But they apparently can do whatever they want.

What’s most disheartening about this is that email marketers have scrupulously observed double opt-in requirements: They have given control to the consumer. But they will be tarred along with everyone else if the broadband providers abuse this gift they have been handed.

The best case against the rule reversal was made in a joint Op ed piece in The Los Angeles Times by Terrell McSweeny, commissioner of the Federal Trade Commission and Mignon Clyburn, commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission.

The blocked rules “recognize the reality that while consumers can choose between different search engines, social networks and other websites based on privacy, many have no choice when it comes to high-speed broadband at home.

The commissioners continue: “Last year’s election was fought over many issues; removing privacy protections from American consumers was not one of them. We have yet to hear from a single consumer who wants less control over their sensitive personal data. Unfortunately, that is exactly what this legislation would do.”

“It is our hope that President Trump, who was elected by arguing that he would stand up for the average American, does what most Americans would expect and vetoes this legislation.” 

Whoops -- too late. 

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