Comcast, AT&T and Verizon Respond to Backlash on Privacy

Since Congress overturned the Internet privacy rules preventing Internet service providers from sharing or selling customers’ Web browsing history, ISPs have been under attack. Now, Comcast, AT&T and Verizon have published blog posts to reassure their customers. Comcast said it does not sell its broadband customers’ Web browsing histories and has no plans to do so in the future. Verizon made a similar claim, and AT&T’s tack is to tell customers that the nixed privacy laws wouldn’t have really protected them.

The Verge reports that the three companies listed above “take different approaches when responding, but the takeaway from all three is that they think customers should stop worrying.”

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“We do not sell our broadband customers’ individual Web browsing history,” said Comcast chief privacy officer Gerard Lewis. Although he added that the company has no plans to do so, The Verge notes that isn’t the same thing as “we will never do so.” “Comcast isn’t making commitments that’ll make it easier for customers to protect their data from being used,” it adds.

Comcast also states its plan to edit its privacy policy to “make more clear and prominent that … 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.” Lewis also pointed out that Comcast allows customers to opt out of seeing targeted ads.

Verizon chief privacy officer Karen Zacharia said, “Verizon does not sell the personal Web browsing history of our customers,” asserting “that’s the bottom line.” She explained that Verizon customers can also opt in to targeted ads (rather than opting out of a default use of Web browsing data). Like Lewis, she tries to make the case that the end of privacy rules is actually good for customers.

AT&T’s response, says The Verge, is similar but also “standoffish and argumentative,” as its public policy chief Bob Quinn asserts that, “the FCC was wrong in the first place,” although he will not spell out what privacy rights AT&T customers currently have. Quinn also complained about Title II reclassification, “indicating that AT&T would like to see it reversed.”

The Verge agrees with all three telecoms that, “existing statutes still offer [customers] protection,” but that those protections are “distinctly weaker than what the new rules would have offered.” So-called sensitive information is protected, but also defined very narrowly.

On Monday, President Trump signed the resolution overturning the FCC privacy order. According to VentureBeat, FCC chair Ajit Pai praised the move for having “appropriately invalidated one part of the Obama-era plan for regulating the Internet.”