September 14, 2017

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Facebook, Google, ISPs fight California broadband privacy bill

By
Levi Sumagaysay
Silicon Beat

(This story originally appeared in Silicon Beat on September 14, 2017)

A broadband privacy bill in California is running into big-time resistance from ISPs — and Google, Facebook and the tech industry — as it comes up for a vote Friday.

AB 375 aims to enact in California what was undone in April when President Trump signed a repeal of privacy protections voted in place last year by the Federal Communications Commission. Those protections included requiring broadband providers to get permission before collecting or sharing customers’ information.

The California Broadband Internet Privacy Act, which was written by Assemblyman Ed Chau, a Democrat from Monterey Park, is supported by advocacy groups such as San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation and Washington, D.C.-based Center for Digital Democracy.

Among the bill’s many opponents are Google, Facebook and tech industry groups. This week, they joined AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, the California Chamber of Commerce and others in sending a letter to the members of the state senate.

“AB 375 is vague and unclear to a degree that will have serious effects on consumers and businesses,” the letter says. “Foundational concepts are lacking, including a clear definition of what businesses the bill covers.”

The bill’s opponents also complain of a rushed legislative process; claim the bill could expose internet users to security risks as they encounter pop-ups as they have to opt in again and again; and say that it would keep ISPs from using customer information to prevent cyber attacks.

The EFF disputes those security claims, saying that because ISPs would have less of an incentive to collect and share customer information, customers would be exposed to fewer security risks.

“A.B. 375 will prevent Internet providers from using your data to sell ads they target to you without your consent—which means they’ll be less likely to insert ads into your web browsing,” Jeremy Gillula, senior staff technologist for the EFF, wrote in a blog post this week.

When reached for comment, a Facebook spokesman referred SiliconBeat to this week’s letter to the state senate. Google did not return a request for comment.

But Andrea Deveau, vice president of State Policy and Politics for TechNet, an industry group with tech executive members, gave insight to what the tech industry’s thinking is on this bill: It doesn’t want regulations related to collecting people’s information. After all, Facebook and Google are in the business of ads.

“The bill under consideration is a direct attack on the internet economy, which supports hundreds of thousands of jobs in California including start-ups, small businesses, and software companies,” Deveau wrote earlier this month. She said the measure “opens the door for more state-level internet regulations in the future, freezing investment and economic growth.

“This issue is critically important and deserves thoughtful consideration and input from all stakeholders,” Deveau said in an emailed statement to SiliconBeat Thursday.

But Gillula of the EFF told SiliconBeat: “Any politician in Sacramento who chooses to vote against A.B. 375 ought to realize they’re going to have to run against ads that say ‘X voted to give your data to big corporations’ during the next election, and given the fallout from when Congress voted down the FCC’s rules, that’s a message voters don’t appreciate.”

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