Statement on Petition to Stay FCC Privacy Rules

Posted by | Privacy | No Comments

Washington, DC, January 30, 2017 – Fred Campbell, director of Tech Knowledge, issued the following statement regarding a petition to stay the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband privacy restrictions that was filed by a group of internet associations.

“The previous FCC’s decision to adopt a discriminatory approach to broadband privacy was driven by its desire to protect particular industry players, not consumers. The agency’s biased rules inhibit the ability of ISPs to compete with edge providers in the internet data market without providing any meaningful privacy protection.

If the rules were stayed, ISPs would abide by the same privacy protections as all other companies under the Federal Trade Commission’s established legal framework, which protects consumer privacy while promoting competition in the data market. Consistent privacy rules and additional competition would be a win-win for broadband consumers.”

Tech Knowledge promotes market-oriented technology policies on behalf of the public interest. Additional information about Tech Knowledge can be found on our website,

Tech Knowledge Comments on FCC Privacy Proceeding

Posted by | Broadband Internet, Freedom of Speech, Privacy | No Comments

Yesterday Tech Knowledge filed the following comments at the Federal Communications Commission in its proceeding on the application of section 222 to broadband internet access service. The complete comments as filed can be downloaded in PDF format HERE. (Note, the HTLM version of the comments printed below does not contain the footnotes provided in the PDF version available at the link above and filed at the FCC.)


Unlike the “telecommunications” traffic carried by the plain old telephone network, internet traffic is valued by advertisers. The data generated by internet traffic is so valuable that at least half of the internet’s economic value is based on the collection of individual user data (primarily for advertising) and most commercial content on the Internet relies on advertising to some extent. “Advertising lessens the cost that each user must pay to receive the benefits of the Internet, and expands the size of the system that society can afford to have.” To put this in perspective, the market for digital advertising ($59.6 billion) is now three times larger than the market for broadcast television advertising ($18.6 billion), and digital advertising is still growing at double-digit rates (20.4% in 2015) while broadcast television advertising is stagnant or declining. Just as watching ads is part of the price consumers pay for free broadcast television, providing access to user data is part of the price consumers pay for the internet as we know it today. Whatever benefits consumers might derive from more stringent regulation of internet data practices will necessarily involve a tradeoff in terms of higher costs — like the premium consumers pay for video services that do not sell advertising (e.g., HBO Now at $14.99 per month).

The FCC’s decision to regulate the usage of internet data for marketing purposes thus raises a central question: When and under what circumstances are the costs imposed on consumers by particular ex ante prohibitions on internet marketing (including costs to market competition) fully offset by the benefits consumers would derive from preventing such use of their data in those circumstances? Read More

The FCC Must Fix Its Process For Receiving Public Input Before Driving Ahead

Posted by | Broadband Internet, Privacy, Video | One Comment

While defending his decision to take jurisdiction over broadband privacy issues from another federal agency, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler proclaimed the FCC “didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.” Perhaps because he had already driven it into the ditch. With this Chairman at the wheel of the FCC, the nation’s expert agency in charge of regulating the Internet, the agency can’t even keep track of public comments filed over the Internet.

During its net neutrality proceeding in 2014, the FCC omitted nearly 680,000 comments from its initial data files due to “glitches” in its electronic comment system. As quickly as the FCC is rushing to impose new regulations on Internet privacy and Internet video, one would think the FCC would have solved its problems with receiving public input by now.

Instead, it appears things have gotten worse. Comments aren’t even showing up in the FCC’s electronic system due to a “74,000-comment backup” across all FCC dockets. In the meantime, the public can’t see these comments or attempt to respond to them. If Senator Mike Lee hadn’t asked Chairman Wheeler about the FCC’s information technology problems during a hearing on Wednesday, the public likely wouldn’t have known that the FCC comment systems aren’t working properly. Read More

The FBI, FCC, And You: Whose Data Is It Anyway?

Posted by | Broadband Internet, Privacy | No Comments

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler is proposing discriminatory Internet marketing rules — rules that restrict the marketing efforts of Verizon FIOS and other Internet service providers (ISPs) only while giving Google and other big data companies in Silicon Valley an anticompetitive advantage in online advertising. Wheeler claims discriminatory marketing restrictions are intended to protect the privacy of “your data,” including “the websites that a customer visits, how often they visit them, and the amount of time they spend on each website.”

It appears Wheeler didn’t get the memo from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and other law enforcement agencies about the law governing privacy and ownership of communications addressing and routing volumes. According to a line of federal court cases dating back to the nineteenth century, users of communications networks don’t have a “justifiable,” “reasonable,” or even a “legitimate expectation of privacy” in that type of data. In fact, it’s not “your” data.

Consumers may have an expectation of privacy in the content of their communications, but that expectation doesn’t reasonably extend to the addresses or volumes of their communications. The federal courts have held that consumers don’t have a legitimate expectation of privacy in the addresses they write on sealed letters and packages sent through the U.S. mail or their weight, the numbers they dial on their telephones or the number of calls they make, or the to/from addresses of their email messages and IP addresses of the websites they visit or the volume of the data transmitted. The Supreme Court has held that an expectation that this type of information should be private “is not one that society is prepared to recognize as ‘reasonable.’” Read More

Tech Knowledge Statement On FCC Privacy Announcement

Posted by | Privacy | No Comments

Washington, DC, March 10, 2016 – Fred Campbell, Director of Tech Knowledge, released the following statement regarding today’s FCC privacy announcement:

Half measures aren’t enough to protect consumer privacy. Sadly, the FCC’s privacy proposal is a half-measure that applies to a limited set of Internet companies that collect a subset of consumer information.

Private consumer information is like any other secret. Even if you only tell a few friends you think you can trust, your secret will likely spread. And the Internet companies the FCC refuses to hold accountable for your privacy — like Google — aren’t your friends. They’re in the business of selling your secrets — secrets so valuable that Google is now the largest company the world has ever known. Yet the FCC plans to exempt Google and the Internet’s other biggest secret-sellers from its new privacy rules. It’s the equivalent  of adopting a nuclear weapons ban that applies to everyone except the United States and Russia — the world’s biggest nuclear powers — and claiming the ban will keep the world safe from nuclear attack.

If the FCC were being honest, it would acknowledge that its plan is too limited to protect your Internet privacy in any meaningful way. But the plan could play a meaningful role in cementing Google’s monopoly market power in the secret-selling business by regulating its potential competitors out of that business altogether.

Which begs an important question: When did the FCC decide that Google’s interests and the public interest are the same thing?

Internet Advertisers Seek Competitive Advantages Through Privacy Regulation

Posted by | Media, Privacy | No Comments

Fred Campbell’s latest article in Forbes warns that powerful Internet advertising companies are using consumer privacy concerns as a weapon against smaller and potentially disruptive competitors. The complete article is available HERE.

The Internet Economy Has Already Crossed the Data Privacy Rubicon

Posted by | Privacy | One Comment

Yesterday I gave a keynote speech about data privacy at a colloquium held by the Dialogue on Diversity. The speech as prepared for delivery is pasted below.

When Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, he irrevocably committed himself to waging a civil war against the Roman Republic. Caesar believed war was his only viable option. The Senate had ordered him to disband his army and return to Rome alone, where he expected to be prosecuted for insubordination and treason. Faced with this as his alternative, he crossed the river saying, “Alea iacta est” — the die is cast.

When it comes to data privacy relating to the tracking and use of consumer information for advertising, the Internet economy crossed the Rubicon long ago. Consumer data is the primary driver of the Internet economy today. According to a study commissioned by the Interactive Advertising Bureau with researchers from the Harvard Business School, at least half of the Internet’s economic value is based on the collection of individual user data and nearly all commercial content on the Internet relies on advertising to some extent. To put things in perspective, the market for digital advertising is now larger than the market for broadcast television advertising, and digital advertising is still growing. A diminished expectation for privacy is the price for accessing search, social networks, maps, email, and other online services without monetary payment. Read More

New Mobile Measurement Service

Posted by | Broadband Internet, Privacy, Wireless | No Comments

XenSurvey, a new service that measures, analyzes, and compares cellular broadband networks, is intriguing. It is being marketed as an enterprise application, but has plans that start at $29 per month. It is unlikely that a consumer would be willing to pay for such a service, but it might be attractive to consumer magazines that regularly conduct these types of measurements.

Read More

Your Privacy and FCC Broadband Measurement: What You Need to Know About Your Personal Data

Posted by | Broadband Internet, Privacy, Wireless | No Comments

“Consumers should be aware that “government transparency” also applies to the data consumers voluntarily provide to the FCC when they participate in a government-run broadband measurement program. . . . The most egregious aspect of these broadband measurement programs, however, is that the FCC kept the public in the dark for more than a year by failing to disclose that its mobile testing apps were collecting user locations (by latitude and longitude) and unique handset identification numbers that the FCC’s contractors can make available to the public.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced a new program to measure mobile broadband performance in the United States. The FCC believes it is “difficult” for consumers to get detailed information about their mobile broadband performance, and that “transparency on broadband speeds drives improvement in broadband speeds.” The FCC does not, however, limit transparency to broadband speeds. Consumers should be aware that “government transparency” also applies to the data consumers voluntarily provide to the FCC when they participate in a government-run broadband measurement program. Information collected by the FCC about individual consumers may be “routinely disclosed” to other federal agencies, states, or local agencies that are investigating or prosecuting a civil or criminal violation. Some personal information, including individual IP address, mobile handset location data, and unique handset identification numbers, may be released to the public.

This blog post describes the FCC’s broadband measurement programs and highlights the personal data that may be disclosed about those who participate in them.

Read More