Following the latest Facebook scandal over user privacy violations, cable giant Charter Communications is calling on Congress to impose a new privacy law that would apply equally to all companies trafficking in consumer data on the Internet. That includes social media companies, network operators, app providers, advertisers and more. According to Charter, such a law should require companies to gain opt-in consent for user data collection and be transparent about all data sharing practices.
The recommendations from Charter Communications Inc. come in the form of a policy blog post authored by CEO Tom Rutledge. While Rutledge has reason to be outraged about recent privacy abuses, however, the call to action is less about protecting consumers than it is about ensuring a level playing field for ISPs against web platform rivals.
In the past, cable operators in particular were very cautious about collecting and selling user data for fear of running afoul of regulators. However, after the ascendance of Facebook and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), cable providers began to realize that they were losing ground in the war for advertising dollars. In recent years, ISPs have grown more aggressive about using viewer data to target advertising, but they have still found a regulatory climate less willing to accept data collection by Internet providers.
Specifically, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under Chairman Tom Wheeler passed broadband privacy rules in late 2016 that required ISPs to implement new security practices, notify users about data collection and ask for opt-in consent before harvesting personal information. (See FCC Dems Pass Broadband Privacy Rules.)
Network operators were infuriated with the FCC move, but gratified when Congress rolled back the ruling in early 2017. (See About That Broadband Privacy Vote.)
Facebook is now dredging up all the old animus. In the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it's clear that the social media company has been profiting from mass data exploitation for many years. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been called to the carpet in front of Congress, and will begin testifying this week about how his company can do better at protecting consumer privacy.
But the news isn't all good for ISPs. While operators are no doubt happy to see a competitor squirm, they also have to be concerned about the new spotlight shining on data privacy and what it could do to their own targeted advertising efforts.
The Rutledge blog post is a way for Charter to get out ahead of the coming debate over user data. ISPs are generally against regulatory oversight, but if new laws are going to be imposed, the company wants to make sure that everyone is regulated equally. In this case that's good for customers. It also happens to be good for the ISP business.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Light Reading