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Google Balks at Privacy Pledge

WASHINGTON — Federal Communications Commission chairman Tom Wheeler may want edge providers to play nice in the cable-privacy space when it gets access to MVPD content and data, but Google doesn’t want to play by rules it says aren’t warranted.

It’s not that the search giant — and prime force behind the FCC’s set-top proposal that would make that content and data available — is against protecting privacy. Rather, self-certifying that it is complying with cable-like protections for data such as viewer preferences is not to its liking.

The FCC has the authority to regulate privacy at MVPDs, but not at edge providers, Wheeler has noted and Google has repeated for emphasis.


Making third parties adhere to cablelike customer privacy rules in exchange for getting access to cable operator settop content was a quid pro quo proposed in Wheeler’s set-top box “unlocking” proposal.

Cable operators are worried that Google’s “trust us” approach is cold comfort, and the tech company was not assuaging their concerns last week, taking aim at the proposed privacy regime in comments filed at the FCC.

“Imposing new privacy rules specifically directed to a new generation of devices and applications is unnecessary, given the comprehensive scope of the FTC Act and state privacy laws,” Google said.

Despite those FTC and state options, the FCC has had separate CPNI (customer network proprietary information) rules, and still does, on cable’s care and handling of customers’ personal information, such as what VOD fare they are paying for.

But Google said the FTC, states and private litigants (courts) will make sure navigation devices will “honor the commitments they make in their privacy policies.” The FTC is an enforcement agency, able to go after companies in court for alleged unfair and deceptive practices.

Privacy advocates have long argued that mandating privacy policies, not pursuing violations of voluntary policies, is the way to go.

But Google signaled that privacy rules are not necessary, saying, “although limitations on the FCC’s jurisdiction under Section 629 of the Communications Act prevent it from applying the rules that apply to ‘cable operators’ and ‘satellite carriers’ to suppliers of devices, the FCC can work closely with the FTC to ensure that consumers are protected if device providers fail to live up to their privacy obligations.”

The FCC has proposed allowing cable operators to deny access to their content and data to third parties that do not take the privacy pledge, but Wheeler has also said the proposal is a work in progress.


Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy and one of the strongest voices for privacy rules, was not pleased with Google’s pushback. “It’s outrageous that as Google expands the data it collects for targeting video advertising, it opposes having the FCC ensure, through stronger rules, that set-top boxes [navigational devices] can actually protect consumer privacy,” Chester told Multichannel News.

“The FCC should reject this self-serving call for it to do nothing,” he added. “Google knows very well the FTC is unable to effectively police the Big Data-driven online video marketplace — and doesn’t have the regulatory authority to effectively do so.”

Amazon last week also told the FCC that holding third parties to cable privacy regulations in the set-top proposal was unnecessary.

Wheeler has said that if the proposal needs fixing he is open to suggestions. He is definitely getting them.