Press Release

Public Knowledge Responds to 21st Century Privacy Coalition Statement on Consumer Data

October 5, 2016 , ,

Today, The 21st Century Privacy Coalition — which represents the largest cable and telecommunications companies — addressed the Federal Communications Commission’s recent efforts to protect online consumer data during a press briefing. The 21st Century Privacy Coalition, while supporting the general distinction made by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) between “sensitive” and “non-sensitive” data, advocated for classifying broad categories such as “browsing history,” which generally contains sensitive information, as “non-sensitive.”

Relying on this framework, the following items would not be protected under a “sensitive-only” approach:

  • Whether a subscriber has visited a website related to a particular medical condition or other private information such as websites related to sexual orientation or sexual abuse.
  • Whether a subscriber uses a medical monitoring device or particular method of online payment.
  • Which devices in the house are used by children, run applications designed for children, or are associated with such activities as homework.

The following can be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge:

“The question has been whether the FCC should extend its highly successful cable privacy and phone privacy regime to include broadband, or whether the FCC should instead adopt the FTC’s approach. No one doubts that the FTC’s sensitive/non-sensitive approach can provide meaningful consumer protection. As the FTC itself urged in its official comments, however, the FCC must customize this approach to meet the unique jurisdiction of the FCC. Indeed, as the FTC demonstrated most recently in In re LabMD, what constitutes ‘sensitive’ data and ‘substantial harm’ to consumers depends on the specific context and circumstances of the industry in question.

“Unsurprisingly, the broadband industry wants to cherry pick FTC precedent to construct a standard that would leave our most confidential communications subject to their prying eyes. This would break with more than 225 years of federal law consistently maintaining the privacy of our communications. We have never let letter carriers keep a log of where we send our letters. We have never let the phone company sell to advertisers a list of whom we call. The FCC should not let broadband providers track our every website visit or application use.

“That Google has now openly joined with cable providers to cherry pick FTC precedent makes it clear that the FCC’s decision will either cement a race to the bottom for consumer protection, or kick off a race to the top for consumer protection.”

Please read Rep. Pallone’s article, “The FCC Must Act Now to Protect Our Privacy,” for more information. You can also view our recent article, “American Privacy in the Digital Era Should Not Be for Sale,” or blog post, “AT&T Does Not Want to Ask for Permission to Share Your Data.”