House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi implored cable companies last week to support a privacy measure that would vastly restrict their business, and would, consequently, give Pelosi’s own big-time donors a critical edge online.
Pelosi sought responses from businesses like Comcast, Verizon, Sprint and AT&T, to see if they support the repeal of pending Obama-era privacy regulations mandated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in October of 2016. Pelosi worried that undoing the new rules through the Congressional Review Act would allow internet service providers (ISPs) to package and sell people’s personal browsing data to advertisers.
Companies not mentioned in the the letter include Google and Facebook. Both not only make enormous amounts of money connecting ads to consumers, but also contribute financially to Pelosi.
Google is expected to make $72.69 billion in ad revenues in 2017, while Facebook is estimated to make $33.76 billion, according to market research company eMarketer. The two companies combined account for 90 percent of the growth in new ad revenue.
Google and Facebook donated a combined $80,875 to Pelosi through the last three campaign cycles, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Some argue that the data such private companies like Google and Facebook have is way more detailed and personal than the one’s ISPs can use.
“Google’s Gmail system has very good access to personal data — it sees what you’re telling your friends, business contacts, and family and it knows who your friends are,” Richard Bennett, a tech consultant and one of the original creators of the Wi-Fi system, told The Daily Caller News Foundation (TheDCNF). He added that, on the contrary, Gmail is encrypted so ISPs cannot determine what is being said and to whom.
Bennett went on to say that Facebook is similar since, along with Google, they have tracking code embedded in ninety percent of the top 1,000 webs sites, meaning the two companies are able to monitor beyond their own platforms.
But the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit digital rights group, disagrees with Bennett’s contentions, and essentially says the opposite.
“Google and Facebook don’t see all your online behavior — only the traffic you send to them. But your ISP sees everything,” a spokesperson for the EFF told TheDCNF. “ISP spying is a much harder thing to fight than app spying,” referring to Google’s Android operating system.
Unlike Pelosi’s letter, the EFF says that it is still worried about Google, Facebook and other services violating people’s privacy.
“Both companies (and many more) should do more to protect privacy on a daily basis. However, the answer isn’t to lower privacy protections elsewhere — it’s for all services to do the right thing.”
After President Donald Trump signed the CRA repeal of the rules, Republican FCC Chairman Pai said the decision “appropriately invalidated one part of the Obama-era plan for regulating the internet,” according to Reuters. “Those flawed privacy rules, which never went into effect, were designed to benefit one group of favored companies, not online consumers.”
A representative for the Center for Democracy and Technology told TheDCNF that one of the main reasons Pelosi and the vast majority of Democrats voted against the repeal was due to their “understanding that the broadband privacy rules were fulfilling the Commission’s Congressional mandate to ensure that common carriers protect the confidentiality of their customers’ information.”
ISPs and cable companies often claim that the only information they want are related to preferences and tendencies for marketing purposes.
Companies are forbidden by the Telecommunications Act to collect and provide data to advertisers that is “individually identifiable,” or pegged to a certain person.
“We do not sell our broadband customers’ individual web browsing history. We did not do it before the FCC’s rules were adopted, and we have no plans to do so,” said Gerard Lewis, Comcast’s chief privacy officer, according to Reuters.
The Internet & Television Association (NCTA), a trade association that represents broadband companies and more than 90 percent of the U.S. cable market, says the repeal of the FCC’s rules does not mean ISPs will start selling “their customers’ ‘sensitive’ information — including financial, children’s, and health information, social security numbers, and precise geolocation data — without first obtaining the affirmative opt-in consent of their customers.”
As Mike Wehner writes for BGR, “Sorry, but nobody actually cares about your web browsing history.”
Phil Kerpen, a free-market policy analyst and president of a conservative organization called American Commitment, disputes the notion that Democrats like Pelosi voted against the repeal because they wanted to ensure privacy protections.
“Democrats have a very close relationship with Google, Amazon, and Facebook that benefit from draconian rules imposed on ISPs to keep them from entering the online advertising market,” Kerpen said, according to TheDCNF. “They also see the fake tech-left narrative about ‘selling your browser history’ — which of course is still as illegal as ever — as an opportunity to score political points.”
The former CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, who now serves as the executive chairman of parent company Alphabet, is not shy about his affinity for liberal causes and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Schmidt was spotted wearing a “staff” badge during Clinton’s election night party.
Alphabet was also reportedly spearheading the funding efforts for the legal brief signed by nearly 100 companies that objected to President Donald Trump’s temporary immigration ban.
Kerpen claims that Republicans voted for the repeal of the FCC privacy order “to undo the corrupt gift given to Google.”
The final point Pelosi makes in the letter appealing to ISPs and telecomm companies purports that there is a connection between this measure and reports of Russian hacking.
“Americans learned last week that agents of Russian intelligence hacked into e-mail accounts to obtain secrets on American companies, government officials and more,” Pelosi writes. ” This resolution [repeal] would not only end the requirement you take reasonable measures to protect consumers’ sensitive information, but prevents the FCC from enacting a similar requirement and leaves no other agency capable of protecting consumers. Does your company support the enactment of S.J. Res. 34?”
Kerpen called Pelosi’s letter “naked political grandstanding.”