By Lynn Stuart Parramore
They call it “modernizing the rules.” We call it “cashing in on your privacy.”
Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, DIRECTV, and other giant U.S. cable and telecommunications companies are going hard-core with an aggressive anti-consumer agenda aimed at turning your private behavior into dollar signs. Citing antiregulatory buzzwords like “competition” and “economic growth’, they are lobbying hard to loosen privacy rules in Washington for a very simple reason: They’ve got their hands on the wires that connect millions of homes with Internet and television services, and they want to sell information about your use of them to the highest bidder.
These companies are trying to move away from their traditional treatment as public utilities and get treated more like Google and Facebook. The shift they seek would strip authority from America’s privacy watchdog, the Federal Communications Commission and expand the mandate of the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC has brought privacy cases against Google and Facebook, but it lacks authority to be a truly effective privacy enforcer and has been seen as unresponsive to public pressure to get tough on powerful Internet players. The FCC, on the other hand, strengthened privacy rules in 2007 and has extracted large fines from Big Telecom for violating customer data-protection protocol. The FCC has a tendency to look at the potential for wrongdoing before it happens, whereas the FTC tends pay attention only after the fact.