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Google to FCC: Privacy Pledge Unnecessary

Google is taking issue with the FCC's proposal to have third parties, like Google, voluntarily adhere to cable-like customer privacy rules in exchange for getting access to cable operator set-top content.

That was a quid pro quo proposed in FCC chairman Tom Wheeler's set-top box "unlocking" proposal, which Google supports.

But in comments filed at the FCC, Google said:

"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."

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 customer information like, say, what VOD fare they are paying for.

But Google says the FTC, states and private litigants (courts) will make sure that navigation devices will "honor the commitments they make in their privacy policies."

The FTC is an enforcement agency, able to go after companies' unfair and deceptive practices in court.

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

But Google signaled that is not necessary. "Although limitations on the FCC's jurisdiction under Sec. 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 to allow cable operators to deny access to their content and data to third-parties who do not take the privacy pledge, but he 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 and longest voices for privacy rules, was not pleased.

"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," he said. "The FCC should reject this self-serving call for it to do nothing.  It should adopt rules that require Google to actually take consumer privacy seriously. 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."