AT&T is joining the Association of National Advertisers in criticizing California's new privacy law to the Federal Trade Commission.
"The California legislation and similar initiatives in other states threaten to create a highly problematic patchwork quilt of privacy regulation. Internet communications are by nature geography-agnostic, and providers cannot feasibly tailor online services to the disparate rules of many different U.S. jurisdictions," AT&T writes in comments submitted this week to the FTC. "As a result, balkanized state-by-state privacy regulation would lead all providers to tailor their practices nationwide to the most restrictive elements of the various state laws."
The telecom's comments come in response to the FTC call for input about a wide range of issues related to technology and business, including privacy.
California's new law, slated to take effect in January of 2020, allows consumers to learn what personal information about them is held by businesses, and to opt out of the sale of that information. Privacy advocates generally support California's new law, although some have said the measure should be even stronger. Business groups, including the Association of National Advertisers, criticize the bill and are pushing for revisions.
AT&T not only denounces the law in its filing, but also suggests the measure will face a court challenge. The group specifically says the law may violate the Constitution, arguing that the law could affect commerce that occurs in other states. Only Congress is allowed to regulate interstate commerce.
"The federal government should not await the outcome of multiyear litigation to restore consistency and predictability to the U.S. privacy framework," the company writes, adding that the FTC should work with Congress to pass federal privacy legislation.
The telecom is also urging the FTC to endorse the concept that broadband providers shouldn't be subject to tougher privacy rules than Google, Facebook or other companies offering online content and services. Those companies companies typically allow consumers to opt out of receiving targeted ads, but only require opt-in consent before serving ads based on a narrow category of "sensitive" data -- like financial account numbers, or health information.
California's new privacy law doesn't impose different standards on broadband providers, but the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission passed an order requiring broadband providers to obtain consumers' opt-in consent before mining their online browsing history for ad targeting. (Congress revoked those regulations last year.)
Privacy advocates have long argued broadband providers should be subject to heightened requirements, noting that internet service providers can glean detailed knowledge about subscribers' online activity by examining all unencrypted traffic that passes through their networks.
AT&T takes the opposite view. The company argues that it needs to be able to mine data about users in order to compete with Google, Facebook and other online companies.
"Information is a crucial competitive advantage in many markets, from digital advertising to streaming video," the telecom writes. "Restricting ISPs’ ability to access, collect, and use data in responsible ways could only enhance the market power of the online companies that have converted their unrivaled stores of consumer data into dominance of various online markets."