Charter: Parity Is Key to Online Privacy Protection

Charter says it backs legislation creating a uniform online privacy protection framework that is opt-in and enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.

That is according to the written testimony of Rachel Welch, senior VP policy and external affairs for Charter, for a Sept. 26 Senate Commerce Committee hearing on privacy. That echoes Charter CEO Tom Rutledge's commitment last April to backing comprehensive legislation.

Edge providers have been talking about the need for some kind of legislation or regulation—under increased pressure from the Hill—but an opt-in regime, they argue, could threaten the business model of targeted advertising that supports their free service.

Charter says the core tenets of any legislation should be control, transparency, uniformity, parity and security.

Under "control" is the key issue of opt-in or opt-out regimes for data sharing. Charter says it should be opt-in, and should apply to everyone, web browsers, search engines and websites as well as ISPs.

"That means no more pre-ticked 'boxes,' take-it-or-leave-it offers, or other default consents," Welch said. "It also means that the use of personal data should be reasonably limited to what the consumer understood at the time consent was provided."

Charter signaled that the data collection that needs protecting is not just the so-called sensitive data that most agree should not be shared without affirmative consent. "While there are legal protections for certain categories of particularly sensitive information, such as financial information and health-related data, vast amounts of other personal data are being collected, shared, tracked, and even sold online without specific protections."

Charter also cites third-party ad networks and online data brokers as things to watch out for and guard against in terms of info collection and sharing. It focuses on the edge, understandably, which does the majority of that collecting and sharing, including websites that embed tracking and ad links "throughout their pages." 

"If the framework is competitively neutral and reflects the principle of parity [not applied based on who is collecting it or whether the service is paid or free], it would not impede businesses from developing new technologies or business models that will encourage market entry, innovation, and robust competition," Charter said. "Instead, it would ensure that businesses have the necessary incentives to develop new products and services that both benefit consumers and earn their trust."

The FCC's reclassification of ISPs as information services deeded online privacy oversight to the Federal Trade Commission, and that is where Charter thinks it belongs. "The FTC is the nation’s leading agency when it comes to privacy enforcement, having brought hundreds of privacy and data security cases. Importantly, it has broad authority to safeguard consumers and enforce privacy protections across the entire online ecosystem," Welch told the committee. The FTC already has oversight over edge privacy.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.