Broadband providers reaffirm privacy policies amid FCC rules flap

Comcast, AT&T and Verizon say they don't collect personal data unless customers allow it.

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Comcast

Comcast, AT&T and Verizon moved to reassure their customers Friday that they have not and will not collect and sell their personal data.

All three companies made such statements a few days after the House of Representatives passed a resolution that would prevent tougher Federal Communications Commission rules on data collection from taking effect. The Senate passed the resolution earlier and President Donald Trump is expected to sign it into law in the coming days.

The bill will allow broadband providers to continue to share customers' web browsing history and other personal data with marketers without first getting permission. The FCC, under former President Barack Obama, in October enacted rules that required broadband providers to get their customers' consent before they could share "sensitive" information about them with marketers and other third parties. The rules had not yet gone into effect.

The broadband providers, weighing into the heated issue on customers' privacy and data collection, all said Friday they've never collected and sold customer data, unless explicitly allowed to do so by a customer.

"We do not sell our broadband customers' individual web browsing history," Gerard Lewis, Comcast's deputy general counsel, wrote. "We did not do it before the FCC's rules were adopted, and we have no plans to do so."

He added that Comcast will revise its privacy policy "to make more clear and prominent that, contrary to the many inaccurate statements and reports, we do not sell our customers' individual web browsing information to third parties and that we do not share sensitive information unless our customers have affirmatively opted in to allow that to occur."

AT&T's Bob Quinn, senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, offered a similar statement, saying his company's privacy policy is the same now as it was before the new FCC rules were passed.

That policy expressly states that AT&T "will not sell your personal information to anyone, for any purpose. Period." It adds: "You have choices about how AT&T uses your information for marketing purposes."

Quinn said it's "flatly untrue" that Congress' actions would eliminate all legal protections on the use of customer information and argued "some folks are ignoring the facts."

And Verizon's chief privacy officer Karen Zacharia posted a blog assuring customers of Verizon's commitment to privacy. "Let's set the record straight. Verizon does not sell the personal web browsing history of our customers," she said. "We don't do it and that's the bottom line."

Along with US Telecom CEO Jonathan Spalter, Zacharia added that existing laws remain in place to protect consumers' privacy.

Despite these statements, consumer advocates argued that the FCC regulations would have ensured broadband providers couldn't sell information about where you've been online, what you're buying, the apps you're using, and where you're located to marketers and other third parties, like insurance companies.

First published March 31, 9:38 a.m. PT.
Update, 12:45 p.m.: Adds statement from Verizon too and a link to comment from US Telecom's CEO.

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