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Today, Verizon announced the acquisition of AOL Inc. for $50 per share, amounting to $4.4 billion dollars. According to Verizon’s statement, the purchase was motivated by AOL’s digital content and advertising platforms as well as the company’s ownership of global content brands. Public Knowledge encourages the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to secure consumer privacy as broadband carriers leverage their unique relationship with subscribers to harvest private information traditionally considered confidential or proprietary.
The following may be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge:
“Whether or not the combination of a major online advertiser with the largest mobile services provider raises substantial antitrust concerns, it raises extremely substantial and urgent privacy concerns. Verizon has already shown an alarming tendency to harvest private information from subscribers to bolster its foray into online advertising. Last year, privacy advocates revealed that Verizon was using a tracking identifier referred to as a “SuperCookie” to track users without their consent and potentially exposing subscriber information to third parties. Only after significant public pressure did Verizon modify its subscriber tracking program to allow users to ‘opt out’ of having the tracking I.D. inserted into their bitstream.
“Following the reclassification of broadband as a Title II telecommunications service, the FCC began a process to consider how to apply the Title II privacy statute to broadband providers. The Verizon/AOL acquisition underscores the need for the FCC to move quickly to put basic privacy protections in place that recognize the unique and privileged access broadband providers have into our personal communications. Your broadband provider can see your every electronic bill-pay, your every online political contribution, and every website you visit or video you download. Consumers deserve the same protection they currently enjoy for their private phone calls for their private online communications."