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Starks: ATSC 3.0 Rollout Raises Privacy, Data Concerns

FCC commissioner Geoffrey Starks warned broadcasters this week that the new ATSC 3.0 transmission standard starting to be rolled out by TV stations across the country could bring with it the same kind of thorny issues that face tech companies--and have caused Washington to eye new regulations on the edge. 

Starks was addressing a National Association of Broadcasters joint board meeting in Miami this week.  

In fact, he said as a regulator his primary focus will be making sure that communications nets and technologies support security, privacy and democratic values. 

Related: ATSC 3.0 Amplifying the Potential of Broadcast TV 

Broadcasters have long promoted the one-to-many character of broadcasting, but ATSC 3.0 will turn that one-ways street into a two-way interactive pathway. 

Starks pointed to all the new features and uses of "DTV on steroids," from better video and audio to interactive and targeted ads and delivering content to fixed and mobile devices. 

But the concern over all that targeting and interactivity, as it has been for tech giants, is how data is collected and protected. "All those features rely on consumer data that will be collected by broadcasters and device manufacturers," he said. "How will that data be kept secure? How will it be stored, anonymized, or sold? How will consumers be fully aware of what data are being collected and how it is being used?" 

Starks, who used much of his speech to promote diversity in broadcast ownership, pointed to the algorithms that will be used by broadcasters and others to "manipulate consumer data to produce targeted ads, viewing suggestions, and the like?" He said the evidence of algorithmic bias, usually unintentional but also avoidable--that exhibit "deeply troubling biases," including on the basis of race. 

He suggested that as broadcasters start looking toward ATSC 3.0's game-changing future, they must "widen their aperture" to see the complex data and privacy issues that will dominate a tech future they will now be sharing with internet players.