Privacy Groups Push FTC on MVPD Data Collection Complaint

Privacy groups have asked the Federal Trade Commission to act on a complaint against MVPDs' collection and use of subscribers' personal information.

The groups filed a complaint a year ago that Comcast, AT&T and Cablevision were not providing adequate disclosure of their collection and marketing of subs' info gleaned from set-top boxes.

In a letter dated June 12, those groups—Public Knowledge, Center for Digital Democracy, TURN–The Utility Reform Network, Consumer Watchdog, Consumer Action, and Consumer Federation of America—urged the FTC to act on the complaint. 

An intervening court decision—FTC v. AT&T Mobility—cast doubt on the FTC's authority to act on the privacy practices of the noncommon carrier businesses of common carriers (AT&T and Comcast are ISPs under Title II classification at the moment). But they pointed out in the letter to FTC chair Maureen Ohlhausen that the even-more-recent decision by that court has vacated the earlier decision so the FTC is now free to act on the complaint and should.

Related: FCC to Court: FTC Common Carrier Exemption Is Activity Based

"You have underscored the important role that the FTC plays as an expert cop on the privacy beat, and now that the AT&T Mobility decision has been vacated, it is time for the FTC to do some policing," they wrote. "We ask that you now publicly and expeditiously resolve the pending complaint concerning cable TV and satellite TV privacy, an area of joint jurisdiction with the FCC."

Related: Court Throws Out Throttling Case Against AT&T Mobility

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit last month agreed to an en banc (full court) review of its three-judge panel decision that left the Federal Trade Commission's authority to oversee privacy in some circumstances very much in doubt. The court also said that in the interim that panel decision was not to be cited as precedent of the Ninth Circuit. Such en banc review is unusual, but the decision had prompted a lot of attention given that potential consumer privacy impact.

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.