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FTC Commissioner Brill’s Privacy Primer: Taking is not Sharing


Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Commissioner Julie Brill delivered a keynote address on privacy policy April 18 before the monthly meeting of the Broadband Breakfast Club in Washington, D.C. The key theme of the commissioner’s speech was that in the increasingly social media-centric privacy context, “taking” consumer data does not constitute a consumer’s willingness to “share” data.

Privacy is gaining increased attention from consumers, industry, elected officials and regulators. In fact, separate reports on privacy were issued by both the White House and the FTC  in recent weeks.  

USTelecom’s member companies have long realized that consumer trust and confidence is of paramount consideration in today’s competitive marketplace. As such, the principles enumerated in the FTC’s report, including “privacy by design,’” simplified choice for consumers, and increased transparency have been standard practice for USTelecom member companies for years.  

Brill also addressed the agency’s five main action items for the year ahead that cover a broad range of issues, including development of do-not-track mechanisms and targeted legislation for data brokers. But the agency also will focus on so-called “large platform providers,” such as ISPs, operating systems, browsers, and social media that it believes warrant heightened scrutiny. The FTC plans to host a public workshop in the second half of 2012 to focus on these issues.  

With respect to large platform providers, however, it is important to note that the broadband marketplace is increasingly competitive – and to coin another phrase, competition is king. As policymakers look at large platform providers, it will be essential to examine the extent of competition within each marketplace. In the broadband marketplace, consumers are not afraid to exercise their choices in broadband Internet Service Providers by switching among providers. According to an FCC report in 2010, 36 percent of Internet users had switched broadband service providers in the prior three years. At the same time, 63 percent of broadband users with a choice of multiple broadband providers said it would be “easy” to switch providers.

Taking is most definitely not sharing, and USTelecom is eager to engage in the upcoming multi-stakeholder process at NTIA to address privacy issues. However, competition in today’s broadband marketplace is king, and a key part of that competition is maintaining consumer trust and confidence.


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