131 posts categorized "Internet Access" Feed

Berners-Lee: 3 Reasons Why The Internet Is In Serious Trouble

Most people love the Internet. It's a tool that has made life easier and more efficient in many ways. Even with all of those advances, the founder of the Internet listed three reasons why our favorite digital tool is in serious trouble:

  1. Consumers have lost control of their personal information
  2. It's too easy for anyone to publish misinformation online
  3. Political advertising online lacks transparency

Tim Berners-Lee explained the first reason:

"The current business model for many websites offers free content in exchange for personal data. Many of us agree to this – albeit often by accepting long and confusing terms and conditions documents – but fundamentally we do not mind some information being collected in exchange for free services. But, we’re missing a trick. As our data is then held in proprietary silos, out of sight to us, we lose out on the benefits we could realise if we had direct control over this data and chose when and with whom to share it. What’s more, we often do not have any way of feeding back to companies what data we’d rather not share..."

Given appointees in the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by President Trump, it will likely get worse as the FCC seeks to revoke online privacy and net neutrality protections for consumers in the United States. Berners-Lee explained the second reason:

"Today, most people find news and information on the web through just a handful of social media sites and search engines. These sites make more money when we click on the links they show us. And they choose what to show us based on algorithms that learn from our personal data that they are constantly harvesting. The net result is that these sites show us content they think we’ll click on – meaning that misinformation, or fake news, which is surprising, shocking, or designed to appeal to our biases, can spread like wildfire..."

Fake news has become so widespread that many public libraries, schools, and colleges teach students how to recognize fake news sites and content. The problem is more widespread and isn't limited to social networking sites like Facebook promoting certain news. It also includes search engines. Readers of this blog are familiar with the DuckDuckGo search engine for both online privacy online and to escape the filter bubble. According to its public traffic page, DuckDuckGo gets about 14 million searches daily.

Most other search engines collect information about their users and that to serve search results items related to what they've searched upon previously. That's called the "filter bubble." It's great for search engines' profitability as it encourages repeat usage, but is terrible for consumers wanting unbiased and unfiltered search results.

Berners-Lee warned that online political advertising:

"... has rapidly become a sophisticated industry. The fact that most people get their information from just a few platforms and the increasing sophistication of algorithms drawing upon rich pools of personal data mean that political campaigns are now building individual adverts targeted directly at users. One source suggests that in the 2016 U.S. election, as many as 50,000 variations of adverts were being served every single day on Facebook, a near-impossible situation to monitor. And there are suggestions that some political adverts – in the US and around the world – are being used in unethical ways – to point voters to fake news sites, for instance, or to keep others away from the polls. Targeted advertising allows a campaign to say completely different, possibly conflicting things to different groups. Is that democratic?"

What do you think of the assessment by Berners-Lee? Of his solutions? Any other issues?


GOP Legislation In Congress To Revoke Consumer Privacy And Protections

Logo for Republican Party, also known as the GOP The MediaPost Policy Blog reported:

"Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who opposes the Federal Communications Commission's broadband privacy rules, says he's readying a resolution to rescind them, Politico reports. Flake's confirmation to Politico comes days after Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee), the head of the House Communications Subcommittee, said she intends to work with the Senate to revoke the privacy regulations."

Blackburn's name is familiar. She was a key part of the GOP effort in 2014 to keep state laws in place to limit broadband competition by preventing citizens from forming local broadband providers. To get both higher speeds and lower prices compared to offerings by corporate internet service providers (ISPs), many people want to form local broadband providers. They can't because 20 states have laws preventing broadband competition. A worldwide study in 2014 found the consumers in the United States get poor broadband value: pay more and get slower speeds. Plus, the only consumers getting good value were community broadband customers. In June 2014, the FCC announced plans to challenge these restrictive state laws that limit competition, and keep your Internet prices high. That FCC effort failed. To encourage competition and lower prices, several Democratic representatives introduced the Community Broadband Act in 2015.That legislation went nowhere in a GOP-controlled Congress.

Pause for a moment and let that sink in. Blackburn and other GOP representatives have pursued policies where we consumers all pay more for broadband due to the lack of competition. The GOP, a party that supposedly dislikes regulation and prefers free-market competition, is happy to do the opposite to help their corporate donors. The GOP, a party that historically has promoted states' rights, now uses state laws to restrict the freedoms of constituents at the city, town, and local levels. And, that includes rural constituents.

Too many GOP voters seem oblivious to this. Why Democrats failed to capitalize on this broadband issue, especially during the Presidential campaign last year, is puzzling. Everyone needs broadband: work, play, school, travel, entertainment.

Now, back to the effort to revoke the FCC's broadband privacy rules. Several cable, telecommunications, and advertising lobbies sent a letter in January asking Congress to remove the broadband privacy rules. That letter said in part:

"... in adopting new broadband privacy rules late last year, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) took action that jeopardizes the vibrancy and success of the internet and the innovations the internet has and should continue to offer. While the FCC’s Order applies only to Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”), the onerous and unnecessary rules it adopted establish a very harmful precedent for the entire internet ecosystem. We therefore urge Congress to enact a resolution of disapproval pursuant to the Congressional Review Act (“CRA”) vitiating the Order."

The new privacy rules by the FCC require broadband providers (a/k/a ISPs) to obtain affirmative “opt-in” consent from consumers before using and sharing consumers' sensitive information; specify the types of information that are sensitive (e.g., geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history and the content of communications); stop using and sharing information about consumers that have opted out of information sharing; meet transparency requirements to clearly notify customers about the information collection sharing and how to change their opt-in or opt-out preferences, prohibit "take-it-or-leave-it" offers where ISPs can refuse to serve customers who don't consent to the information collection and sharing; and comply with "reasonable data security practices and guidelines" to protect the sensitive information collected and shared.

The new FCC privacy rules are common sense stuff, but clearly these companies view common-sense methods as a burden. They want to use consumers' information however they please without limits, and without consideration for consumers' desire to control their own personal information. And, GOP representatives in Congress are happy to oblige these companies in this abuse.

Alarmingly, there is more. Lots more.

The GOP-led Congress also seeks to roll back consumer protections in banking and financial services. According to Consumer Reports, the issue arose earlier this month in:

"... a memo by House Financial Services Committee Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex), which was leaked to the press yesterday... The fate of the database was first mentioned [February 9th] when Bloomberg reported on a memo by Hensarling, an outspoken critic of the CFPB. The memo outlined a new version of the Financial CHOICE Act (Creating Hope and Opportunity for Investors, Consumers and Entrepreneurs), a bill originally advanced by the House Financial Services Committee in September. The new bill would lead to the repeal of the Consumer Complaint Database. It would also eliminate the CFPB's authority to punish unfair, deceptive or abusive practices among banks and other lenders, and it would allow the President to handpick—and fire—the bureau's director at will."

Banks have paid billions in fines to resolve a variety of allegations and complaints about wrongdoing. Consumers have often been abused by banks. You may remember the massive $185 million fine for the phony accounts scandal at Wells Fargo. Or, you may remember consumers forced to use prison-release cards. Or, maybe you experienced debt collection scams. And, this blog has covered extensively much of the great work by the CFPB which has helped consumers.

Does these two legislation items bother you? I sincerely hope that they do bother you. Contact your elected officials today and demand that they support the FCC privacy rules.


Cable, Telecom And Advertising Lobbies Ask Congress To Remove FCC Broadband Privacy Rules

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and 15 other cable, telecommunications, advertising lobbies sent a letter on January 27, 2017 to key leaders in Congress urging them to repeal the broadband privacy rules the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted in October 2016 requiring Internet service providers (ISPs) to protect the privacy of their customers. 15 advertising and lobbyist groups co-signed the letter with the ANA: the American Cable Association, the Competitive Carriers Association, CTIA-The Wireless Association (formerly known as the Cellular Communications Industry Association), the Data & Marketing Association, the Internet Advertising Bureau, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. Telecom Association, and others.

The letter, available at the ANA site and here (Adobe PDF; 354.4k), explained the groups' reasoning:

"Unfortunately, in adopting new broadband privacy rules late last year, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) took action that jeopardizes the vibrancy and success of the internet and the innovations the internet has and should continue to offer. While the FCC’s Order applies only to Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”), the onerous and unnecessary rules it adopted establish a very harmful precedent for the entire internet ecosystem. We therefore urge Congress to enact a resolution of disapproval pursuant to the Congressional Review Act (“CRA”) vitiating the Order.

Adopted on a party-line 3-2 vote just ten days before the Presidential election, over strenuous objections by the minority and strong concerns expressed by entities throughout the internet ecosystem, the new rules impose overly prescriptive online privacy and data security requirements that will conflict with established law, policy, and practice and cause consumer confusion... the FCC Order would create confusion and interfere with the
ability of consumers to receive customized services and capabilities they enjoy and be informed of new products and discount offers. Further, the Order would also result in consumers being bombarded with trivial data breach notifications."

Data breach notifications are trivial? After writing this blog for almost 10 years, I have learned they aren't. Consumers deserve to know when companies fail to protect their sensitive personal information. Most states have laws requiring breach notifications. It seems as these advertising groups don't want to be responsible nor held accountable.

The Hill explained the CRA and how it usually fails:

"The Congressional Review Act (CRA) has only worked precisely one time as a way for Congress to undo an executive branch regulation... The CRA was passed in 1996 as part of then-Speaker Newt Gingrich's (R-Ga.) "Contract with America." While executive branch agencies can only issue regulations pursuant to statutes passed by Congress, Congress wanted to find a way to make it easier to overturn those regulations. Previously there was a process by which, if one house of Congress voted to overturn the regulation, it was invalidated. This procedure was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1983.

Congress was still able to overturn an executive branch regulation by passing a law. Passing a law is, of course, subject to filibusters in the Senate. We've learned that the filibuster in recent years has made it quite difficult to pass laws. The CRA created a period of 60 "session days" (days in which Congress is in session) during which Congress could use expedited procedures to overturn a regulation.

Also on January 27, several consumer privacy advocates sent a letter (Adobe PDF) to the same Congressional representatives. The letter, signed by 20 privacy advocates including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Democracy and Technology, the Center for Media Justice, Consumers Union, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, the Privacy Rights Clearing House, and others urging the Congressional representatives:

"... to oppose the use of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to adopt a Resolution of Disapproval overturning the FCC’s broadband privacy order. That order implements the mandates in Section 222 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which an overwhelming, bipartisan majority of Congress enacted to protect telecommunications users’ privacy. The cable, telecom, wireless, and advertising lobbies request for CRA intervention is just another industry attempt to overturn rules that empower users and give them a say in how their private information may be used.

Not satisfied with trying to appeal the rules of the agency, industry lobbyists have asked Congress to punish internet users by way of restraining the FCC, when all the agency did was implement Congress’ own directive in the 1996 Act. This irresponsible, scorched-earth tactic is as harmful as it is hypocritical. If Congress were to take the industry up on its request, a Resolution of Disapproval could exempt internet service providers (ISPs) from any and all privacy rules at the FCC... It could also preclude the FCC from addressing any of the other issues in the privacy order like requiring data breach notification and from revisiting these issues as technology continues to evolve in the future... Without these rules, ISPs could use and disclose customer information at will. The result could be extensive harm caused by breaches or misuse of data.

Broadband ISPs, by virtue of their position as gatekeepers to everything on the internet, have a largely unencumbered view into their customers’ online communications. That includes the websites they visit, the videos they watch, and the messages they send. Even when that traffic is encrypted, ISPs can gather vast troves of valuable information on their users’ habits; but researchers have shown that much of the most sensitive information remains unencrypted. The FCC’s order simply restores people’s control over their personal information and lets them choose the terms on which ISPs can use it, share it, or sell it..."

The new FCC broadband privacy rules kept consumers in control of their online privacy. The new rules featured opt-in requirements allowing them to collect consumers' sensitive personal information only after gaining customers' explicit consent.

So, advertisers have finally stated clearly how much they care about protecting consumers' privacy. They really don't. They don't want any constraints upon their ability to collect and archive consumers' (your) sensitive personal information. During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate and now President Donald Trump promised:

"One of the keys to unlocking growth is scaling-back years of disastrous regulations unilaterally imposed by our out-of-control bureaucracy. In 2015 alone, federal agencies issued over 3,300 final rules and regulations, up from 2,400 the prior year. Every year, over-regulation costs our economy $2 trillion dollars a year and reduces household wealth by almost $15,000 dollars. Mr. Trump has proposed a moratorium on new federal regulations that are not compelled by Congress or public safety, and will ask agency and department heads to identify all needless job-killing regulations and they will be removed... A complete regulatory overhaul will level the playing field for American workers and add trillions in new wealth to our economy – keeping companies here, expanding hiring and investment, and bringing thousands of new companies to our shores."

Are FCC rules protecting your privacy "over-regulation," "onerous and unnecessary?" Are FCC privacy rules keeping consumers in control over their sensitive personal information "disastrous?" Will the Trump administration side with corporate lobbies or consumers' privacy protections? We shall quickly see.

There is a clue what the answer to that question will be. President Trump has named Ajit Pai, a Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission, as the new FCC chair replacing Tom Wheeler, the former chair and Democrat, who stepped down on Friday. This will also give the Republicans a majority on the FCC.

Pai is also an opponent of net neutrality rules the FCC has also adopted, which basically says consumers (and not ISPs) decided where consumers go on the Internet with their broadband connections. Republicans in Congress and lobby groups have long opposed net neutrality. In 2014, more than 100 tech firms urged the FCC to protect net neutrality. With a new President in the White House opposing regulations, some companies and lobby groups seem ready to undo these consumer protections.

What do you think?


74 Percent of US Broadband Households Have Internet-Connected Televisions

According to new research from The Diffusion Group (TDG), 74 percent of US households had Internet-connected televisions at year-end 2016. In 2013, 50 percent of households had Internet-connected televisions. Michael Greeson, TDG President and Director of Research, said:

"At 74% penetration, connected TV use is squarely in the Late Mainstream phase of its trajectory. Barring any major disruption in TV technology or market conditions, growth will slow each year as the solution reaches saturation... Broadband pay-TV services are particularly well positioned to leverage this utility, which permits scale at much lower costs."

TDG first noted in 2004 that the penetration of connected televisions would closely follow broadband (a/k/a high-speed Internet) services.

Chart by TDG of Internet-connected televisions in the United States. Click to view larger version


How To Spot Fake News And Not Get Duped

You may have heard about the "pizzagate" conspiracy -- fake news about a supposed child-sex ring operating from a pizzeria in Washington, DC. A heavily armed citizen drove from North Carolina to the pizzeria to investigate to investigate the bogus child-sex ring supposedly run by Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The reality: no sex ring. That citizen had been duped by fake news. Shots were fired, and thankfully nobody was hurt.

CBS News reported that the pizzagate conspiracy had been promoted by Michael G. Flynn, son of retired General Michael T. Flynn, Donald Trump's pick for national security adviser. As a result, the younger Flynn resigned Tuesday from President-Elect Trump's transition team.

I use the phrase "fake news" for several types of misleading content: propaganda, unproven or fact-free conspiracy theories, disinformation, and clickbait. The pizzagate incident highlighted two issues: a) fake news has consequences, and b) many people don't know how to distinguish real news from fake news. So, while political operatives reportedly have used a combination of fake news, ads, and social media to both encourage supporters to vote and discourage opponents from voting, there clearly are other real-life consequences.

To help people spot fake news, NPR reported:

"Stopping the proliferation of fake news isn't just the responsibility of the platforms used to spread it. Those who consume news also need to find ways of determining if what they're reading is true. We offer several tips below. The idea is that people should have a fundamental sense of media literacy. And based on a study recently released by Stanford University researchers, many people don't."

The report is enlightening. In the "Evaluating Information: The Cornerstone of Civic Online Reasoning" report, researchers at Stanford University tested about 7,804 students in 12 states between January 2015 and June 2016. They found:

"... at each level—middle school, high school, and college—these variations paled in comparison to a stunning and dismaying consistency. Overall, young people’s ability to reason about the information on the Internet can be summed up in one word: bleak. Our “digital natives” may be able to flit between Facebook and Twitter while simultaneously uploading a selfie to Instagram and texting a friend. But when it comes to evaluating information that flows through social media channels, they are easily duped... We would hope that middle school students could distinguish an ad from a news story. By high school, we would hope that students reading about gun laws would notice that a chart came from a gun owners’ political action committee. And, in 2016, we would hope college students, who spend hours each day online, would look beyond a .org URL and ask who’s behind a site that presents only one side of a contentious issue. But in every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students’ lack of preparation... Many [people] assume that because young people are fluent in social media they are equally savvy about what they find there. Our work shows the opposite."

This is important for both individuals and the future of the nation because:

"For every challenge facing this nation, there are scores of websites pretending to be something they are not. Ordinary people once relied on publishers, editors, and subject matter experts to vet the information they consumed. But on the unregulated Internet, all bets are off... Never have we had so much information at our fingertips. Whether this bounty will make us smarter and better informed or more ignorant and narrow-minded will depend on our awareness of this problem and our educational response to it. At present, we worry that democracy is threatened by the ease at which disinformation about civic issues is allowed to spread and flourish."

While the study focused upon students, but older persons have been duped, too. The suspect in the pizzeria incident was 28 years old. The Stanford report focused upon what teachers and educators can do to better prepare students. According to the researchers, additional solutions are forthcoming.

What can you do to spot fake news? Don't wait for sites and/or social media to do it for you. Become a smarter consumer. The NPR report suggested:

  1. Pay attention to the domain and URL
  2. Read the "About Us" section of the site
  3. Look at the quotes in a story
  4. Look at who said the quotes

All of the suggestions require readers to take the time to understand the website, publication, and/or publisher. A little skepticism is healthy. Also verify the persons quoted and whether the persons quoted are who the article claims. And, verify that any images used actually relate to the event.

We all have to be smarter consumers of news in order to stay informed and meet our civic duties, which includes voting. Nobody wants to vote for politicians that don't represent their interests because they've been duped. To the above list, I would add:

  • Read news wires. These sites include the raw, unfiltered news about who, when, where, and what happened. Some suggested sources: : Associated Press (AP), Reuters, and United Press International (UPI)
  • Learn to recognize advertisements
  • Learn the differences between different types of content: news, opinion, analysis, satire/humor, and entertainment. Reputable sites will label them to help readers.

If you don't know the differences and can't spot each type, then you are likely to get duped.


FCC Adopted New Broadband Privacy Rules

Federal communications Commission logo Late last month, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FC) adopted new privacy rules to require high-speed Internet service providers (ISPs) to protect the privacy of their customers. The FCC announcement explained the new privacy rules:

"Opt-in: ISPs are required to obtain affirmative “opt-in” consent from consumers to use and share sensitive information. The rules specify categories of information that are considered sensitive, which include precise geo-location, financial information, health information, children’s information, social security numbers, web browsing history, app usage history and the content of communications.

Opt-out: ISPs would be allowed to use and share non-sensitive information unless a customer “opts-out.” All other individually identifiable customer information – for example, email address or service tier information – would be considered non-sensitive and the use and sharing of that information would be subject to opt-out consent, consistent with consumer expectations.

Exceptions to consent requirements: Customer consent is inferred for certain purposes specified in the statute, including the provision of broadband service or billing and collection. For the use of this information, no additional customer consent is required beyond the creation of the customer-ISP relationship.

Transparency requirements that require ISPs to provide customers with clear, conspicuous and persistent notice about the information they collect, how it may be used and with whom it may be shared, as well as how customers can change their privacy preferences;

A requirement that broadband providers engage in reasonable data security practices and guidelines on steps ISPs should consider taking, such as implementing relevant industry best practices, providing appropriate oversight of security practices, implementing robust customer authentication tools, and proper disposal of data consistent with FTC best practices and the Consumer Privacy Bill of Rights.

Common-sense data breach notification requirements to encourage ISPs to protect the confidentiality of customer data, and to give consumers and law enforcement notice of failures to protect such information."

The new privacy rules prohibit “take-it-or-leave-it” offers, which means an ISP cannot refuse to serve customers who don’t consent to the use and sharing of their information for commercial purposes. The new rules also addressed the desire by ISPs to charge customers more fees for privacy. According to the FCC Fact Sheet:

"Recognizing that so-called “pay for privacy” offerings raise unique considerations, the rules require heightened disclosure for plans that provide discounts or other incentives in exchange for a customer’s express affirmative consent to the use and sharing of their personal information. The Commission will determine on a case-by-case basis the legitimacy of programs that relate service price to privacy protections. Consumers should not be forced to choose between paying inflated prices and maintaining their privacy.

ISPs like Comcast, AT&T, Charter, and Verizon opposed the stricter privacy rules. Google had argued for broader opt-out provisions and privacy rules the same as for websites, not stricter. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a political lobbying organization, opposed the stronger privacy rules the FCC proposed in March. Last week, Reuters reported:

"The final regulation is less restrictive than the initial plan proposed by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler in March and closer to rules imposed on websites by the Federal Trade Commission. Republican commissioners said the rules unfairly give websites the ability to harvest more data than service providers and dominate digital advertising."

FCC Chairman Wheeler released a statement on October 27 about the new broadband privacy rules:

"Last week, I visited Consumer Reports’ headquarters in Yonkers, New York, where I toured their product testing facility and met with senior leadership. When looking at a smart refrigerator that collects and shares data over the Internet, the discussion turned to privacy. Who would have ever imagined that what you have in your refrigerator would be information available to AT&T, Comcast, or whoever your network provider is?

The more our economy and our lives move online, the more information about us goes over our Internet Service Provider (ISP) – and the more consumers want to know how to protect their personal information in the digital age.

Today, the Commission takes a significant step to safeguard consumer privacy in this time of rapid technological change, as we adopt rules that will allow consumers to choose how their Internet Service Provider (ISP) uses and shares their personal data.

The bottom line is that it’s your data. How it’s used and shared should be your choice."

The last sentence cannot be over-emphasized. Consumers: it is our information -- property -- which ISPs use, sell, and make money with. Consumers should decide what data broadband and wireless providers share with marketers. Consumers must be in control.

And, there is more to come as the FCC oversees "pay-for-privacy" schemes by ISPs. So, thanks to the FCC and to Chairman Wheeler for fighting strongly for consumers' online privacy rights. What are your opinions of the new broadband privacy rules?


Study: Almost 40 Percent of U.S. Smartphone Owners Use Voice Recognition

According to a recent study by Parks Associations, a market research and consulting company, 39 percent of smartphone owners in the United States use some form of voice recognition (e.g., Siri, Google Now). The usage is higher (more than 50 percent) for iPhone owners compared to Android owners (less than 33 percent). Harry Wang, Director of Health & Mobile Product Research at Parks Associations said:

“Smartphone penetration has reached 86% of U.S. broadband households, so it is a mature market, with users, particularly younger consumers and iOS users, exploring more intelligent features and interfaces, including voice control... The growing consumer interest in voice control features is driving this technology into new IoT areas... Following Apple’s lead with Siri, other brands have created ‘personalities’ for their voice-control solutions, like Alexa for Amazon Echo and Cortana for Windows Phones."

Usage is higher among younger persons. 48 percent of smartphone users ages 18-24, use voice recognition software, usage of the “Siri” voice recognition software increased from 40 to 52 percent between 2013 and 2015. In total, about 15 percent of all U.S. broadband households use Siri.

About 70 percent of smartphone owners who use voice recognition are satisfied. 38 percent said they are very satisfied, and 9 percent said they are not satisfied.

Additional findings about U.S. smartphone users:

  • More than 70 percent watch short streaming video clips, and more than 40 percent watch long streaming videos.
  • 36 percent use WiFi calling.
  • 26 percent use a payment app for purchases at retail stores, and
  • 24 percent stream video from their phones to a second screen (e.g., TV, PC).

Learn more in the "360 View: Mobility and the App Economy" report, or the press release, by Parks Associates.


Google Has Quietly Dropped Ban on Personally Identifiable Web Tracking

[Editor's Note: Today's guest post was originally published by ProPublica on October 21, 2016. It is reprinted with permission.]

Google logo by Julia Angwin, ProPublica

When Google bought the advertising network DoubleClick in 2007, Google founder Sergey Brin said that privacy would be the company's "number one priority when we contemplate new kinds of advertising products."

And, for nearly a decade, Google did in fact keep DoubleClick's massive database of web-browsing records separate by default from the names and other personally identifiable information Google has collected from Gmail and its other login accounts.

But this summer, Google quietly erased that last privacy line in the sand -- literally crossing out the lines in its privacy policy that promised to keep the two pots of data separate by default. In its place, Google substituted new language that says browsing habits "may be" combined with what the company learns from the use Gmail and other tools.

The change is enabled by default for new Google accounts. Existing users were prompted to opt-in to the change this summer.

Revised Google privacy terms

The practical result of the change is that the DoubleClick ads that follow people around on the web may now be customized to them based on the keywords they used in their Gmail. It also means that Google could now, if it wished to, build a complete portrait of a user by name, based on everything they write in email, every website they visit and the searches they conduct.

The move is a sea change for Google and a further blow to the online ad industry's longstanding contention that web tracking is mostly anonymous. In recent years, Facebook, offline data brokers and others have increasingly sought to combine their troves of web tracking data with people's real names. But until this summer, Google held the line.

"The fact that DoubleClick data wasn't being regularly connected to personally identifiable information was a really significant last stand," said Paul Ohm, faculty director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law.

"It was a border wall between being watched everywhere and maintaining a tiny semblance of privacy," he said. "That wall has just fallen."

Google spokeswoman Andrea Faville emailed a statement describing Google's change in privacy policy as an update to adjust to the "smartphone revolution"

"We updated our ads system, and the associated user controls, to match the way people use Google today: across many different devices," Faville wrote. She added that the change "is 100% optional -- if users do not opt-in to these changes, their Google experience will remain unchanged." (Read Google's entire statement.)

Existing Google users were prompted to opt-into the new tracking this summer through a request with titles such as "Some new features for your Google account."

The "new features" received little scrutiny at the time. Wired wrote that it "gives you more granular control over how ads work across devices." In a personal tech column, the New York Times also described the change as "new controls for the types of advertisements you see around the web."

Connecting web browsing habits to personally identifiable information has long been controversial.

Privacy advocates raised a ruckus in 1999 when DoubleClick purchased a data broker that assembled people's names, addresses and offline interests. The merger could have allowed DoubleClick to combine its web browsing information with people's names. After an investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, DoubleClick sold the broker at a loss.

In response to the controversy, the nascent online advertising industry formed the Network Advertising Initiative in 2000 to establish ethical codes. The industry promised to provide consumers with notice when their data was being collected, and options to opt out.

Most online ad tracking remained essentially anonymous for some time after that. When Google bought DoubleClick in 2007, for instance, the company's privacy policy stated:

"DoubleClick's ad-serving technology will be targeted based only on the non-personally-identifiable information."

In 2012, Google changed its privacy policy to allow it to share data about users between different Google services - such as Gmail and search. But it kept data from DoubleClick 2013 whose tracking technology is enabled on half of the top 1 million websites -- separate.

But the era of social networking has ushered in a new wave of identifiable tracking, in which services such as Facebook and Twitter have been able to track logged-in users when they shared an item from another website.

Two years ago, Facebook announced that it would track its users by name across the Internet when they visit websites containing Facebook buttons such as "Share" and "Like" 2013 even when users don't click on the button. (Here's how you can opt out of the targeted ads generated by that tracking).

Offline data brokers also started to merge their mailing lists with online shoppers. "The marriage of online and offline is the ad targeting of the last 10 years on steroids," said Scott Howe, chief executive of broker firm Acxiom.

To opt-out of Google's identified tracking, visit the Activity controls on Google's My Account page, and uncheck the box next to "Include Chrome browsing history and activity from websites and apps that use Google services." You can also delete past activity from your account.

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for their newsletter.


Report: Consumer Usage of Video Streaming Services in The US

New research revealed that 16% of the "viewing population" have multiple subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) services in their homes. That's up from 10% three years ago. Consumer market research firm Gfk studied consumers in the United States, and also found that almost half (49%) of the "viewing population" subscribes to at least one SVOD service, 17% have both Netflix and Amazon Prime, 9% have Netflix and Hulu Plus, and 5% have all three of the major services.

The “viewing population” includes consumers who watch video at least once per week via any format: regular TV, streaming, or otherwise. According to Gfk, this is 95 percent of the total number of people 13 to 64 US years of age. Gfk also found that consumers:

"... who pay for combinations of Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and other subscription streaming services – are more likely to have kids under 18 in their homes (50%, versus an average of 41% among all weekly viewers of any type). “Self-bundlers” also have higher mean incomes than average weekly viewers – at $90,000 per year versus $76,000 – but are less likely to subscribe to traditional pay TV services.."

GfK interviewed 1,054 consumers in the United States for its “Over-the-Top TV 2016: A Complete Video Landscape” report. In related studies during the past year, Gfk found:

Below is an infographic from Gfk's "Over the Top TV 2016" report with additional information:

Infographic from Gfk Over the Top TV 2016 report. Click to view larger version


Yahoo Confirms Massive Data Breach. Unclear If Users At Its Outsourcing Clients Were Also Affected

Yahoo logo After reports about a rumored announcement, Yahoo confirmed late on Thursday a massive data breach affecting half a billion users -- 500 million persons. Yahoo believes the breach was performed by a "state-sponsored actor."

Data elements exposed and stolen during the breach include full names, e-mail addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, hashed passwords and, in some cases, security questions and answers. The breach dated back to 2014. This is very serious, and by far the largest breach ever. The data elements stolen facilitate spam and a variety of scams; plus access to email contacts such as clients, customers, and patients.

Yahoo's breach announcement stated:

"The ongoing investigation suggests that stolen information did not include unprotected passwords, payment card data, or bank account information; payment card data and bank account information are not stored in the system that the investigation has found to be affected. Based on the ongoing investigation, Yahoo believes that information associated with at least 500 million user accounts was stolen and the investigation has found no evidence that the state-sponsored actor is currently in Yahoo’s network. Yahoo is working closely with law enforcement on this matter..."

Yahoo is in the process of notifying affected persons. Affected users should change their passwords, security questions, and answers.

The breach announcement did not state if users at outsourcing clients were affected. Other companies and entities can outsource their e-mail services to Yahoo, or to other e-mail providers offering similar services. One such company appears to be AT&T. The "AT&T Email Basics" page (see image below) references a co-branded AT&T-Yahoo website for AT&T customers to check their e-mail.

AT&T Email Basics page references Yahoo site for email. Click to view larger version I reached out to AT&T for a comment. A reply was not received by press time. If its email users were affected by the breach, then those users will probably want to know who is going to assist them, and what assistance will be offered.

Given the pending acquisition of Yahoo by Verizon, several AT&T customers already discussed in an online forum concerns about what might happen to their e-mail service operated by a competitor. (Verizon said on Thursday it learned about the breach two days ago.) If users at outsourcing clients were also affected by the breach, then this might add to their uncertainty.

If you received a breach notice from Yahoo, what is your opinion of the response?


Comcast And The Wireless Industry Defend 'Pay For Privacy' Schemes

Logo of CTIA, The Wireless Association Some big Internet service providers (ISPs) want consumers to pay for privacy. Earlier this month, both Comcast and the CTIA-The Wireless Association (formerly known as the Cellular Communications Industry Association) submitted comments about the broadband privacy rules proposed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in April.

Portions of August 18, 2016 comments submitted by the CTIA to the FCC:

"Finally, we briefly noted that allowing consumers a variety of options regarding whether to receive a discount on broadband service in exchange for personalized advertising should be preserved. Hybrid payment models have been in commerce for centuries, including advertising supported magazines, grocery store loyalty programs, and app-based discount programs for retail establishments. Many internet companies rely on use of consumer data as their sole source of income, like search engines and social networks. Such offerings can lead to significant cost savings for all consumers, enable more valuable services for consumers, and mirror much of the economic activity that consumers expect. On this point, we provided a copy of a recent report by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, titled “Why Broadband Discounts for Data are Pro-Consumer,” which is attached to this filing."

Let's unpack this. It says that ISPs should be able to charge their customers for privacy, since many ISPs rely upon using (and reselling) their customers' information to make money. This would be an opt-out for customers, since the default is customers' information is used and resold. There are several problems with this approach:

  1. The pay-for-privacy business model is camouflaged in a seemingly harmless term: "hybrid payment models"
  2. The CTIA's argument falsely assumes ISPs are equivalent to search engines or social networking sites. They aren't. When a consumer uses the Internet, he/she has a choice of which search engine or social networking site to use; or none. Not so with ISPs. A consumer must use the Internet to do anything. Plus, there is a lack of ISP competition in key markets, which provides consumers with fewer choices. Is the industry suggesting more competition? Doubtful. In fact, the industry lobbied for and obtained local laws in about 20 states that deny residents the rights and benefits from competition by community-run ISPs; laws which a federal court recently (and mistakenly) upheld. And, proposed legislation to encourage ISP competition to gain lower prices and more choices for consumers has been blocked by the industry, by politicians, by attorneys general in some states.
  3. The CTIA's position is harmful. It essentially says this: the default is no privacy. Customers get privacy only when they pay for it. Huh? I find this at odds with traditional property rights laws. Information about consumers is owned by consumers until and unless they share it.
  4. Most customers already pay a monthly fee for Internet access. So, paying for privacy amounts to a price increase... a premium price, for something that should be baked into the service at the start. Plus, consumers in the United States already pay more for broadband and get slower speeds compared to other countries.
  5. The pay-for-privacy model does not address under- and un-served broadband segments: rural and low-income consumers. One could argue that paying for privacy is a greater burden on low-income consumers, when everyone has property rights and Fourth Amendment rights.
  6. Consumers need simplicity and clarity. For example, should a service offer a pay-for-privacy, it should mention optional components (e.g., web browsing, scan email contents, scan text message content, etc.) with standardized labels and language. Otherwise, consumers have more difficulty comparing services, and privacy policies that are already too long, complicated and difficult to read become even more so.

Comcast logo The CTIA's position seems to have followed Comcast's position. Portions of August 1, 2016 comments submitted by Comcast to the FCC:

"We also urged that the Commission allow business models offering discounts or other
value to consumers in exchange for allowing ISPs to use their data. As Comcast and others have argued, the FCC has no authority to prohibit or limit these types of programs. Moreover, such a prohibition would harm consumers by, among other things, depriving them of lower-priced offerings... A bargained-for exchange of information for service is a perfectly acceptable and widely used model throughout the U.S. economy, including the Internet ecosystem, and is consistent with decades of legal precedent and policy goals related to consumer protection and privacy.

Finally, we discussed how Comcast has partnered with vendors who have helped to
enhance consumer data privacy, and that the Commission should be clear that any rules it adopts do not prevent ISPs from providing CPNI to a vendor based on implied consent, provided the ISP has an agreement with the vendor requiring it to safeguard the CPNI and to use it solely on behalf of and as directed by the ISP..."

The same problems I listed above also apply to Comcast's comments. This is not theory. MotherBoard reported:

"Telecom giant AT&T already offers such a [pay for privacy] plan, called “Internet Preferences,” which tempts consumers with “best pricing” if they are willing to let the company “use your individual web browsing information, like the search terms you enter and the web pages you visit, to tailor ads and offers to your interests.” Users who opt-out of "Internet Preferences," which DSLReports calls a “deep packet inspection program that tracks your browsing behavior around the internet—down to the second,” face a $30 premium on their monthly bill."

Last year, Gigaom reported that price premium by AT&T for privacy is really far more:

"But $29 isn’t actually the price that AT&T charges per month for privacy. As I discussed back in May last year after I tried to sign up for AT&T’s GigaPower service to find out more about the pricing and the disclosures associated with the plan, the actual costs were closer to $44 or even $62 per month. This time around the price differentials are $44 for gigabit internet and $66 for HD TV and HBO Go plus gigabit internet."

Like anything else, the devil is in the details. $44 and $62 monthly both sound excessive. Apparently, the more services a consumer has, the more privacy costs. Regular readers of this blog already know about CPNI notices from AT&T.

The problems I see with both Comcast's and the wireless industry's pay-for-privacy positions are rooted in a lack of trust and transparency. The ISP industry has a long history of abuses, customer service failures, and a lack of transparency. Both the Gigaom and MotherBoard articles mentioned above highlight problems and failures, plus:

Consumers are rightfully wary and skeptical of pay-for-privacy schemes. Plus, consumers have no way to confirm that in a pay-for-privacy scheme their information is not being reused and resold anyway.

A solution based upon transparency that promotes trust would help: regular privacy audits by an independent third-party to ensure that the information of consumers who paid a privacy price premium are getting what they paid for.

Also available in this blog are the CTIA letter to the FCC (Adobe PDF; 247.2K bytes), and Comcast's letter to the FCC (Adobe PDF; 176.3K bytes).

To me, the whole thing smells like another excuse for ISPs to increase prices on services that are already too expensive and too slow. What do you think?


Federal Court Upholds State Laws To Restrict And Prevent City-Run Broadband Services

Last week, a federal appeals court overturned a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling allowing community (a/k/a "city-run" or municipal) high-speed Internet service providers (ISPs) to expand into areas not served by commercial providers. The court decision immediately affects the expansion plans of community ISPs in Tennessee and North Carolina.

Community high-speed or broadband ISPs typically provide faster speeds (e.g., upload, download) and lower prices compared to commercial ISPs. Both states had passed laws preventing community ISPs from expanding, or making it onerous to expand. he FCC sought to stop such laws to encourage more competition, more choices, and lower prices for consumers.

The initial Reuters news report did not explain the rationale the court used. ABC News reported:

"The appeals court said that the FCC's order pre-empted the state laws and "the allocation of power between a state and its subdivisions." The court said the FCC's action requires a "clear statement" of authority in federal law, but the law does not contain a clear statement authorizing pre-emption of Tennessee's and North Carolina's laws... The appeals court said its ruling was a limited one, and it does not address other issues debated in the case, including whether the FCC has any pre-emptive power at all under the Telecommunications Act of 1996."

Chattanooga, Tennessee advertises itself as "Gig City," and is proud of its fiber broadband network:

"Only in Chattanooga, Tennessee is 1 Gigabit-per-second Internet speed available to every home and business - over 150,000 of them - throughout the entire community. Urban or rural, business or residence, Internet speeds that are unsurpassed in the Western Hemisphere – from 50 Megabits-per-second all the way up to one gigabit-per-second are accessible here. Today... Chattanooga's Fiber Optic network enables upload and download speeds 200 times faster than the current national average, and 10 times faster than the FCC's National Broadband Plan (a decade ahead of schedule)."

How fast is that? You can download a full-length movie in about 2 minutes. Is that faster than the broadband speed you get in your town or city? Probably. Is it cheaper than what you're paying? Probably.

The Attorneys Generals in several states have worked to prevent their residents from forming city-run ISPs. Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slattery III released a statement:

"We are pleased with the 6th Circuit decision reversing the FCC’s Order. As we have stated from the outset, this case was not about access to broadband. Instead, it was about preventing the federal government from exercising power over the state of Tennessee that it does not have. Current state law allows a municipal Power Board to provide internet service only within its electric service area. Today’s decision preserves Tennessee’s right to determine the authority and market area of a political subdivision organized under Tennessee law."

The trade associations that represents corporate ISPs, US Telecom released a statement:

"Today’s decision is a victory for the rule of law. The FCC’s authority is not unbridled, it is limited to powers specifically delegated by the Congress, and it does not extend to preemption of state legislatures’ exercise of jurisdiction over their own political subdivisions. As an industry that shares the commission’s interest in accelerating broadband deployment, we would suggest that the best way for the FCC to accomplish its goals is to concentrate on eliminating federal regulatory impediments to innovation and investment – where there remains to be much that can and should be done."

Of course, the trade group is happy with the court decision. State laws that restrict or prevent city-run ISPs mean less competition, which makes it easier for corporate ISPs to maintain higher prices and slower speeds (which equals greater profits).

Community ISPs provide benefits for small businesses, and not only consumers. The benefits include more jobs, better services, and the ability of local towns to attract new businesses and start-ups. These benefits apply to rural areas, too; especially rural areas not served by corporate ISPs.

The Community Broadband Networks site described the benefits for small businesses of community broadband in North Carolina:

"... Speed is important, but so is Internet choice, reliable service, and respectful customer service... Before Greenlight began serving Pinetops, the best community members could get was sluggish Centurylink DSL - or Internet access offered over the phone lines... Suzanne Coker Craig, owner of CuriosiTees, described the situation... Her business, a custom screen printing shop, uses an “on-time” inventory system, so speed and reliability is critical for last-minute or late orders... She also subscribes to Greenlight from home and her fiber connection is able to manage data intense uploads required for sending artwork, sales reports, and other large document transfers... Brent Wooten is a sales agent and Manager for Mercer Transportation, a freight management business... moving freight across the country via trucks, requires being on time; he’s an information worker in a knowledge economy... Before Greenlight came to town, Brent’s business paid Centurylink $425 per month for a few phone lines, long distance, an 800 number, and Internet access at 10 Megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1.5 Mbps upload. He was also wasting hours and even days each month trying to get his Internet fixed... When Greenlight came to the community, Centurylink changed their tune. Within hours of his business phone being ported to Greenlight, a Centurylink representative called him. “He offered to cut my current prices in half and double my Internet speed, from 10 to 20 Mbps…My Centurylink 10 Mbps speed never tested at more than 6 Mbps.” Brent chose to keep his Centurylink phone service, but he kept his 25 Mbps symmetrical Greenlight Internet service because upload speed is critical to his business..."

Will these rural consumers and small businesses lose their community broadband services? Given the court decision, that is possible. Will the court decision negatively affect jobs? Probably, since many small businesses depend upon the faster community ISPs. FCC Chairman Wheeler stated:

"While we continue to review the decision, it appears to halt the promise of jobs, investment and opportunity that community broadband has provided in Tennessee and North Carolina. In the end, I believe the Commission’s decision to champion municipal efforts highlighted the benefits of competition and the need of communities to take their broadband futures in their own hands.

In the past 18 months, over 50 communities have taken steps to build their own bridges across the digital divide. The efforts of communities wanting better broadband should not be thwarted by the political power of those who, by protecting their monopoly, have failed to deliver acceptable service at an acceptable price. The FCC’s mandate is to make sure that Americans have access to the best possible broadband. We will consider all our legal and policy options to remove barriers to broadband deployment wherever they exist so that all Americans can have access to 21st Century communications. Should states seek to repeal their anti-competitive broadband statutes, I will be happy to testify on behalf of better broadband and consumer choice. Should states seek to limit the right of people to act for better broadband, I will be happy to testify on behalf of consumer choice...”

In January 2015, several U.S. Senators introduced the Community Broadband Act legislation in to block these restrictive laws in 20 states and to encourage more competition and lower prices for more consumers by allowing residents the right to operate city-run ISPs offering faster speeds and lower prices. Last week, Senator Ron Wyden (Oregon - Democrat) tweeted about the federal court decision:

Tweet by Senator Ron Wyden about Community Broadband Act

The legislation has stalled in the Republican-led Congress. Once again, you will hear politicians shout about the importance of defending state's rights against the FCC, while ignoring the rights of rural and small town residents to form community ISPs. Hypocritical politicians do this to protect their corporate ISPs donors from competition, which basically screws over residents by keeping prices high and speeds slow.

Residents in rural areas, small towns, and cities can claim, "we've been mugged" by state' legislatures that enacted laws preventing competition (and lower prices) from community ISPs.

Researchers compared high-speed Internet services worldwide, and found that consumers in the USA pay more and get slower speedsAnd Get Slower Speeds. That's great for corporate ISP profits and bad for consumers. The Community Broadband Act is an attempt to solve this problem.

Read the court decision: State of Tennessee, and the State of North Carolina; versus the U.S. Federal Communications Commission - (Adobe PDF). The FCC is reviewing the court's decision, and has not decided whether to appeal it.

The court decision is definitely pro-state law and anti-consumer. The court decision basically allows states to continue with laws that deny residents in local cities and towns the right to form, operate, and expand their own municipal broadband services to get lower prices and better services. That means less competition and higher prices for consumers living in states with these laws. Consider that when you vote in November.


The U.S. Copyright Office Commented on The FCC's Set-top Box Proposal

Federal communications Commission logo After the U.S. Federal Communications Commission proposed in February new set-top box rules for cable TV providers to encourage innovation, choices, and lower prices for consumer, the pay TV industry countered with its own proposal in June. Earlier this month, the U.S. Copyright Office shared its views about the matter.

Maria A. Pallante, a United States register of Copyrights and Director, provided the agency's views in a detailed 18-page letter to the FCC. The FCC used "Multi-Channel Video Programming Distributors" (MBPD) in its proposal to refer to the variety of companies (e.g., cable TV, wireless, Internet distributors, etc.) that distribute TV,, film, and video content. Pallante's letter is available at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) website:

"As requested, our comments pertain to the potential copyright implications of the Proposed Rule, as well as the general copyright principles at issue. Please note that although the Copyright Office did not file public comments in the FCC proceeding, the FCC did request our advice on the copyright issues raised by its proposal... we have no doubt that a number of the third-party products facilitated by the FCCs rule would enable fair and other nonfringing consumer uses of MVPD programming. The Copyright Office is therefore focused on whether these goals can be accomplished without overriding other concerns of copyright law and policy. The Office's principal reservation is that, as currently proposed, the rule could interfere with copyright owners' rights to license their works as provided by copyright law, and restrict their ability to impose reasonable conditions on the use of those works through the private negotiations that are the hallmark of the vibrant and dynamic MVPD marketplace..."

In short, the TV landscape today consists of many, secret, complicated licensing agreements between content producers and distributors. A Forbes Magazine article by Larry Downes described the landscape:

"Hollywood, for better and for worse, is built on a complicated legal regime of content licensing. That licensing limits when, where, and how programs are broadcast, and to whom. It includes limitations of the number and types of commercials that can be inserted into the programming, and even where in the channel line-up the programs will appear to consumers. Licensing agreements between producers and distributors are long, complicated, and mostly secret.

Opening the information flows for undefined new forms of access through new set-top boxes will almost certainly undermine those agreements. Third party boxes may change the channel line-up, replace the commercials, or offer programs on-demand that aren’t licensed for that use. Existing security and consumer privacy protections, mandated by law for pay TV providers, can’t be enforced by the FCC against new unregulated providers."

What we consumers see on TV, when we see it, how often we wee it, the number of commercials we see during shows, whether the show can be recorded (e.g., time shifted), whether the show can be device shifted (e.g., from television to a phone, tablet), and whether we see the show on pay-per-view, on-demand, on an Internet site, and/or on our phones are all governed by those private contracts.

Pallante's letter described the landscape similarly, but in greater detail. It also analyzed the FCC's proposed set-top box rule:

"In its most basic form, the rule contemplated by the FCC would seem to take a valuable good -- bundled video programming created through private effort and agreement under the protections of the Copyright Act -- and deliver it to third parties who are not in privity with the copyright owners, but who may nonetheless exploit the content for profit. Under the Proposed Rule, this would be accomplished without compensation to the creators or licensors of the copyrighted programming, and without requiring the third party to adhere to agreed-upon license terms. Indeed, a third party would have no way of knowing all of the requirements and liitations imposed under that license. As a result, it appears inevitable that many negotiated conditions upon which copyright owners license their works to MVPDs would not be honored under the Proposed Rule..."

"The FCC has stated that the Proposed Rule is not intended to negate these private contractual arrangements. However, it is not clear how the FCC wold prevent such an outcome under the Proposed Rule, for it appears to obligate MVPDs to deliver licensed works to third parties that could then unfairly exploit the works in ways that would be contrary to the essential conditions upon which the works were originally licensed... Thus, rather than being passive conduits for licensed programming, it seems that a broad array of the third-party devices and services would be enabled by the Proposed Rule would essentially be given access to a valuable bundle of copyrighted works, and could repackage and re-transmit those works for a profit, without having to comply with agreed contractual terms. And even though such activities -- for instance, competing or incompatible advertising -- could easily lessen the value of the rights licensed by program producers to the MVPDs, no offsetting compensation would flow back to the copyright holders or their actual licensees. THe Proposed Rule would thus appear to inappropriately restrict copyright owners' exclusive right to authorize parties of their choosing to publicly perform, display, reproduce and distribute their works according to agreed conditions, and to seek remuneration for additional uses of their works."

The Copyright Office's letter also discussed enforcement issues:

"... there already exists today a variety of third-party set-top box devices, mainly produced overseas, that are used to view pirated content delivered over the Internet. A reasonable concern is that, in response to the Proposed Rule, this market might expand to encompass devices designed to exploit the more readily available MVPD programming streams without adhering to the prescribed security measures. In addition, some commenters have suggested that limiting options for content security in this manner could jeopardize robust content security regimes -- including innovations to those systems -- thereby opening doors for third parties to acquire content illegally..."

Pallante and the Copyright Office concluded:

"We note that at the July 12th Congressional oversight hearing, FCC Commissioners acknowledged that they might choose to follow a different approach to achieve the FCC's objectives than that outlined in the NPRM, and that emerging alternative proposals showed promise. The Copyright Office is therefore hopeful that the FCC will refine its approach as necessary to avoid conflicts with copyright law and authors' interests under that law... it seems critical that any revised proposal respect the authority of creators to manage the exploitation of their copyrighted works through private licensing arrangements, because regulatory actions that undermine such arrangements would be inconsistent with the rights granted under the Copyright Act..."

So, the FCC's set-top box rule as initially proposed is too disruptive, and is effectively dead, since it would interfere with copyright owners' rights to license their content. Hopefully, the FCC won't give up and will refine its set-top box approach.

Pallante's letter to the FCC is also available here (Adobe PDF; 278.1K).


Benefits of Municipal Broadband Service

Andy Berke, the Mayor of Chattanooga (Tennessee) recently shared the benefits his city enjoys from municipal broadband services. The Tennessean reported:

"A pioneer in municipal broadband, Chattanooga developed its fiber network in 2010 with $330 million, paid for with $105 million in federal funds and the rest from bonds. The high-speed access led to direct and indirect economic gains and has been profitable."

Municipal broadband, a/k/a community broadband, is an affordable high-speed Internet Service Provider (ISP) built by the city, town, or municipality. It paid the cost to install fiber-optic cables to every home, not only to luxury buildings or select high-rise offices. A public-private partnership or third party may operate the network. Every resident and business that wants municipal broadband can sign up and easily get it; just like water, electricity, and gas services. Residents use municipal broadband for entertainment, education and online classes, remote work and tele-commuting, video conferencing, home-based businesses, new business startups, and more.

Mayor Berke listed the benefits Chattanooga enjoys:

"In the past three years, the city’s unemployment rate has dropped to 4.1 percent from 7.8 percent and the wage rate has also been climbing. Volkswagen’s presence has boosted the manufacturing sector and 10-gigabit speed internet has fueled wage growth, Berke said, speaking at Fiber to the Home Council Americas conference at Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center... “It changed our conceptions of who we are and what is possible,” Berke said... Downtown has doubled its residents and landlords often advertise gigabit speeds that are included in monthly rents... "

Other towns in Tennessee have installed municipal broadband services, including Tullahoma and Clarksville. How fast is 10 gigabits? It is the fastest service available. Some math:

1.0 gigabit = 1.0 Gb = 1,024 X 1,024 X 1,024 bits = 1,073,741,824 bits
10 Gb = 10 X 1,073,741,824 bits = 10,737,418,240 bits
And 1 byte = 8 bits. So:
10 Gb / 8 = 1,342,177,280 bytes
And 1.0 megabyte = 1.0 MB = 1,000 kilobytes
And 1.0 kilobyte - 1.0 kb = 1,000 bytes. So:
1,342,177,280 bytes / 1,000,000 = 1,342 MB

The bottom line: 10-gigabits is a far, far faster than the 25-, 50-, or 100 MB broadband speed you're probably getting from your current Internet Service provider (ISP). Electric Power Board (EPB) provides the municipal broadband service in Chattanooga. Besides the blazing 10 gigabit speed, it also offers slower speeds:

EPB brodabnad prices. Chattanooga, Tennessee. Click to view larger version

Comcast Xfinity monthly prices for Internet. Click to view larger version I compared prices. Comcast Xfinity in Boston costs $79.95 per month for 75 megabytes speed. That's both slower and more expensive. Plus, it's the old coaxial cables and not the new fiber optic technology. Old things usually cost less. Read and learn more about community broadband networks.

Compare the prices for where you live. You're probably getting poor value. You're probably paying a lot more. If you are paying less, then you're still paying more because you're probably getting a far slower speed. Now you know a better deal exists, and how sweet that deal is -- both faster and cheaper service.

This worldwide study found that municipal or community broadband networks provide consumers with the best value (e.g., highest speeds at the lowest prices via wired lines). Regular readers of this blog are aware that there are 19 states with laws that prevent local towns and cities from forming their own municipal broadband networks. These laws contribute to the lack of competition, and keep your monthly Internet prices higher than otherwise. Some States Attorneys General are complicit with limiting competition.

Several politicians and Presidential candidates support these states' laws that limit competition, under the guise of "states rights" freedoms. This subterfuge helps their corporate donors, and limits (and ignores) both the freedoms and rights of people in local cities and towns to get and develop their own faster, more affordable high-speed Internet services.

Some politicians tried to correct this in 2015 with the Community Broadband Act. Sadly, that legislation has gone nowhere in Congress. Contact your elected officials today and tell them you want municipal broadband now.

Now you know why I discuss municipal broadband in this blog. Consumers are missing out on a sweet deal.


Pay-TV Industry Makes A Counter Proposal To FCC Set-Top Cable Box Rules

In response to the new set-top box rules proposed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in February to encourage innovation, choices, and lower prices for consumers, the pay-TV industry has made a counter proposal. During meetings last week with the FCC:

"... the pay-TV industry would commit to creating apps to allow consumers to watch programs without needing to lease a box and the FCC could implement regulations enforcing the commitment"

Consumers spend an average of $231 annually in set-top box rental fees, generating $20 billion for the industry. The proposed FCC rules would encourage competition, innovation, more consumer choices, and lower prices. The FCC has said that it needs to see more details about the industry's counter offer:

"... to determine whether their industry proposal fully meets all of the goals of our proceeding..."

Not long ago, the pay-TV industry threatened lawsuits if the FCC proceeded with its proposed set-top box rules. Now, the industry has proposed a half-baked counter offer. Committing to create apps is like giving the sleeves off your vest. Apps are something the industry should be doing anyway.

Plus, the faux commitment avoids competition which was a key goal of the FCC's original proposed rules. One goal was innovation, which means let the innovators innovate -- tech companies like Apple, Alphabet, and others. Clearly, the industry is afraid of competition and doing whatever it can to keep competitors out, regardless of the negative consequences for consumers.

Also, the pay-TV industry's objections to the proposed FCC set-top box rules are unsupportable. Nothing in the FCC's proposed set-top box rules restricts the industry. They can still negotiate content agreements, develop apps (by themselves or license others to do it), and maintain their copyrights or property ownership. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) explained the the pay-TV industry's sordid history, the industry's faux copyright objections, and its likely goals today:

"... they are hoping that the FCC will repeat the same mistake it has made in the past when attempting to break up the TV set-top box monopoly, which is to leave them with enough control over the design and features of personal TV hardware and software so that choice becomes an illusion... Consumers know they are being ripped off by the current marketplace ($230 per consumer totaling $20 billion in rental fees each year) because they don't have an easy way to just own their box like they do with computers, cable modems, smart phones, tablets, and other electronic devices. And consumers know the personal empowerment that comes with being able to choose the best entertainment devices and software for themselves, separate from the entertainment content itself. Congress recognized this problem twenty years ago and passed a law that empowered the FCC to fix the problem... So what happened? The FCC issued regulations but allowed the cable industry to keep some control. Cable companies today have to give customers a descrambling device called a CableCARD that can go into devices like a TiVO, a PC, or (in theory) a TV itself. But the CableCARD era has been riddled with endless examples of how cable companies frustrate consumer switching away from rented set-top boxes because they controlled the means to switch... "

The pay-TV industry also includes many of the same wireless and broadband providers that object to proposed broadband privacy rules, object to net neutrality rules, and hired lobbyists for local laws in 19 states that prevent citizens from forming municipal broadband networks. All of this keeps prices high, and restricts competition and innovation. What's with the executive myopia?

The TV and cable-TV industries are changing quickly. Pay-TV executives seem addicted to $20 billion annual revenue flows regardless of the consequences to consumers. Address consumers' changing needs or go the way of buggy-whip makers who failed to adapt.

What are your opinions? Comments?


Appeals Court Backs FCC Net Neutrality Rules: Internet Access is a Utility

Federal communications Commission logo Yesterday, the D.C. Court of Appeals issued its decision, which supported the new Open Internet Rules by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) to ensure open access to the Internet by all Americans. The new rules, commonly referred to as Net Neutrality and developed in 2015, apply to both wireless and wired connects; and are based upon no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization, and greater transparency. Cable, telecommunications, and wireless companies have fought the new rules.

The New York Times reported:

"The court’s decision upheld the F.C.C. on the historic declaration of broadband as a utility, the most significant aspect of the rules. That has broad-reaching implications for web and telecommunications companies and signals a shift in the government’s view of broadband as a service that should be equally accessible to all Americans, rather than a luxury that does not need close government supervision... The 184-page ruling opens a path for new limits on broadband providers."

Some of the companies support the FCC's new rules:

"Google and Netflix support net neutrality rules and have warned government officials that without regulatory limits, broadband providers would have an incentive to create business models that could harm consumers. They argue that broadband providers could degrade the quality of downloads and streams of online services to extract tolls from web companies or to promote unfairly their own competing services or the content of partners."

Some of the companies against the FCC's new rules:

"The legal battle from the broadband industry is far from over. The cable and telecom industries have signaled their intent to challenge any unfavorable decision, possibly taking the case to the Supreme Court. AT&T immediately said it would continue to fight."

A spokesperson for AT&T said that it hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will ultimately decide the matter. Corporate ISPs don't want Internet access reclassified as a utility. The Republican party promoted Senator Thune's proposed legislation in Congress to undo all of the good in the latest FCC rules. I called the proposed legislation a bait and switch. Read it and you'll probably agree.

U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement:

"... net neutrality is here to stay... The court decision affirms what we already know to be true: that the FCC has the power to classify broadband Internet access service according to its best and current understanding of the technology, and how consumers harness that technology. The battle for net neutrality is the battle for our online future, and today’s ruling is a victory for consumers, innovators, entrepreneurs, and anyone who counts on the Internet to connect to the world. This decision celebrates the free and democratic expression of ideas that is the hallmark of our online ecosystem. Protecting net neutrality ensures that the best ideas, and not merely the best-funded ideas, will rule the day.”

The D.C. Appeals Court decision is indeed good news for consumers. Both consumers and businesses use the Internet daily... need the Internet... for a variety of applications. It has become essential to everyday life. Internet access is like water o electricity. We all need it to live, to work, to attend school.

Open Internet rules makes sense. When a consumer pays for Internet access, he or she should decide what they use that access for... not the Internet Service Provider (ISP). Large, corporate ISPs have amassed a variety of programming content in divisions and subsidiaries. The rule reflects this reality, and helps ensure that when YOU, the consumer, access the Internet you choose where to go -- and not your ISP, which has their own internal, financial bias toward content at owned affiliates, divisions, or business units.

The FCC has already proposed new privacy rules for high-speed ISPs, and unlocking cable set-top boxes to encourage innovation, competition, more choice, and lower prices for consumers. All of these rules make sense, complement each other, and help consumers.

The 184-page decision by the D.C. Appellate Court is available here and here (Adobe PDF; 1,001K bytes).


U.S. Chamber of Commerce Opposes Proposed FCC Broadband Privacy Rules

U.S. Chamber of Commerce logo Some companies don't want consumers to have privacy when using high-speed Internet services. Just before the long Memorial Day holiday weekend, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCOC) submitted comments about the broadband privacy rules proposed by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in April. Portions of the USCOC's comments to the FCC:

"... the Chamber opposes the proposed broadband privacy rule because it is unnecessary, exceeds statutory authority, furthers a regulatory digital divide between edge and telecommunications providers, and threatens innovation by stifling the already thriving Internet ecosystem... I. Current broadband provider privacy practices and the market do not justify the proposed rule... II. The Commission is engaging in a regulatory overreach with its proposed rule... III. The NPRM furthers a regulatory digital divide The proposed rule creates regulatory imbalance in which broadband service providers will be subject to highly restrictive and prescriptive “opt-in” privacy regulations while other content and edge providers — like Netflix — remain under the light-touch regulatory framework of the FTC... The Chamber strongly supports voluntary self-regulation as the appropriate mechanism for online data protection... IV. The proposed FCC privacy rule threatens innovation and the current digital ecosystem..."

What is the USCOC? It is a political lobbying organization representing businesses. According to the organization's website:

"The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the world’s largest business organization representing the interests of more than 3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions. Our members range from mom-and-pop shops and local chambers to leading industry associations and large corporations. They all share one thing—they count on the Chamber to be their voice in Washington, D.C."

Let's unpack this a bit. In its comments to the FCC, the USCOC is arguing for the interests of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and not small mom-and-pop shops, and definitely not the interests of consumers. The USCOC's view is that opt-in privacy approaches is "highly restrictive" and a burden. Instead, they want to collect whatever consumer information ISPs desire and place the entire burden on consumers to opt-out of programs. Think about that for a moment. They believe it is burdensome to explain a program's privacy policy and display an "opt-in" (or "register" or "I accept these terms") button so that consumers stay in control of their personal information.

The USCOC's submission claims that the FCC's proposed rules unfairly places restrictions on ISPs compared to "edge providers' or companies that produce content and advertising networks:

"The proposed rule creates regulatory imbalance in which broadband service providers will be subject to highly-restrictive and prescriptive “opt-in” privacy regulations while other content and edge providers — like Netflix — remain under the light-touch regulatory framework of the FTC. The same customer data about Internet usage will be regulated by two very different agencies. Content and edge providers will continue to operate under FTC’s jurisdiction to regulate “unfair and deceptive” trade practices under Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act. 21 Under Section 5, in the case of unfair and deceptive trade practice violations, the FTC generally issues a cease and desist order that does not immediately impose penalties on alleged violators. This practice gives companies notice and a chance to clean up their act. Conversely, broadband providers under section 222 would not be entitled to a notice to correct mistakes and would be subject to the highly-prescriptive regulations imposed by the NPRM. The decision to regulate broadband providers under two different regulatory regimes is entirely arbitrary..."

Huh? Really? Internet access is not content. Content is content. Of course, the two should be treated differently. Internet access includes the connections for devices a consumer uses online: phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, smart televisions, smart thermometers, smart home-security systems, fitness bands, smart watches, connected refrigerators, and more. Consuming content from Netflix, or another provider, may involve a few, one, or none of these devices -- the choice of the consumer.

In its comments to the FCC, the USCOC also said:

The Commission has also failed to offer any evidence that edge and content providers are respecting consumers’ privacy more than broadband providers or that Internet service providers have any meaningful advantage over content and edge providers with respect to personal data."

MediaPost reported:

"Consumer advocacy groups disagree, pointing out that ISPs have access to all unencrypted traffic in their networks. While more sites now encrypt data than in the past, much remains unencrypted. Consider, a recent study by Upturn found that more than 85% of the top 50 sites in health, news and shopping don't fully support encryption. Upturn also noted in its report that ISPs can glean information about consumers even when they visit encrypted sites... Consumer advocacy groups also argue that broadband providers should be subject to tougher privacy rules because consumers have only limited options about which ISP to use, but many choices about which Web sites to visit."

Well said. I would add to this that the industry historically has repeatedly abused consumers' privacy. This blog has covered many of those abuses:

Historically, ISPs have sought increased revenues and viewed targeted (behavioral) advertising as the means. To do this, they partnered with several technology companies (some went out of business after class-action lawsuits) to spy on consumers without notice, without consent, and without providing opt-out  mechanisms. Consumers should control their privacy, not ISPs.

Now you know who if fighting for consumers' interests, and who is not.


Proprietary Content Formats Threaten Both Consumers' Choices And An Open, Fair Internet

EFF - Save Firefox image

The open Internet and consumer choice are both under attack. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) described the threat (links added):

"The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), once the force for open standards that kept browsers from locking publishers to their proprietary capabilities, has changed its mission. Since 2013, the organization has provided a forum where today's dominant browser companies and the dominant entertainment companies can collaborate on a system to let our browsers control our behavior, rather than the other way.

This system, "Encrypted Media Extensions" (EME) uses standards-defined code to funnel video into a proprietary container called a "Content Decryption Module." For a new browser to support this new video streaming standard -- which major studios and cable operators are pushing for -- it would have to convince those entertainment companies or one of their partners to let them have a CDM, or this part of the "open" Web would not display in their new browser.

This is the opposite of every W3C standard to date: once, all you needed to do to render content sent by a server was follow the standard, not get permission. If browsers had needed permission to render a page at the launch of Mozilla, the publishers would have frozen out this new, pop-up-blocking upstart. Kiss Firefox goodbye, in other words.

The W3C didn't have to do this. No copyright law says that making a video gives you the right to tell people who legally watch it how they must configure their equipment. But because of the design of EME, copyright holders will be able to use the law to shut down any new browser that tries to render the video without their permission."

An EFF blog post explained the related threat from vague online language:

"A team of researchers from UC Berkeley and Case Western have published a study showing that customers think they are getting traditional ownership rights when they buy digital media online, even when a vendor’s site includes legal terms (often buried in click-wrap agreements) purporting to limit those rights.

In the study, customers purchased digital media from a fictional website with either a “Buy Now” button, a “License Now” button... Customers clicking “Buy Now” overwhelmingly believed for that they would “own” both digital and hard copy media, and have the right to keep it indefinitely and use it on a device of their choice. Little did they realize that their digital copy could be taken away or simply be discontinued when a vendor went out of business or stopped supporting the product... When the button was changed to read “License Now,” customers’ expectations did not significantly change (they were less likely to say they "owned" the product, but just as likely to believe they had the rights that come with ownership). When, however, customers were presented with a plainly-written summary of the rights that were and were not granted, this did cause a corresponding change in people’s expectations. The paper reinforces the truism that no one reads fine print online terms, even in a research study. If vendors really wanted customers to understand what’s in their terms, they could easily craft informative summaries as the researchers did."

So, when you visit a website with "Buy It Now" buttons or "Own it Now" ads, you now know what really matters is what the fine print states. Some Apple Music and iTunes customers are learning this the hard way. Subscribing to music online may be convenient, but the downside is loss of control over music files that can also affect files users do own.

Publishers have every right to protect their property from theft, and the old adage is true: the devil is in the details. Read the fine print. When publishers use digital rights management (DRM) to drive web browser standards and both the hardware and software consumers can buy, then the tail wagging the dog.

So, it's not only about saving the Firefox web browser. It's about ensuring competition; that publishers build content to open standards and any web browser can display content built to those standards. Read the entire EFF article. Standards are standards. They should be open to everyone; not driven by publisher's needs.

What are you thoughts or opinions about the new standard?