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The Internet Innovation Alliance is a broad-based coalition of business and non-profit organizations that aim to ensure every American, regardless of race, income or geography, has access to the critical tool that is broadband Internet. The IIA seeks to promote public policies that support equal opportunity for universal broadband availability and adoption so that everyone, everywhere can seize the benefits of the Internet - from education to health care, employment to community building, civic engagement and beyond.

The Podium

Blog posts tagged with 'Ftc'

Wednesday, October 19

A Better Path for Privacy


With the FCC set to vote on its privacy order later this month, it’s worth examining how the Commission’s latest approach — which would greatly expand the definition of “sensitive data” and for the first time make web browsing “opt-in” for consumers — still risks harming the entire internet ecosystem.

Yes, the current course FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is, on the whole, similar to the rules the Federal Trade Commission has long used when it comes to online data. But that doesn’t mean the proposed rules wouldn’t be onerous. They would also make for a decidedly uneven playing field. For example:

• The FCC’s current proposal paints an overly broad definition of “sensitive” data that could easily slow the growth of online commerce to a crawl.

• Certain obligations imposed by the proposal would only apply to ISPs, putting their businesses at a disadvantage to edge providers.

• Whereas the FTC has always used a context approach when it comes to treating web browsing as “sensitive data,” the FCC’s makes no distinction between health information and, say, online shopping.

• Making the collection of all web browsing opt-in for consumers — as some are proposing — is not just unnecessary, it’s unrealistic and would only confuse, annoy, and discourage consumers who understand that much of their online data is not sensitive.

Obviously, everyone agrees online privacy is important — especially as more and more of what we do each day is done digitally. But the FTC, providers, companies like Google, and the Obama administration know that the seamless sharing of non-sensitive data — is critical for the online economy. So rather than attempt to reinvent, or even tinker with, the longstanding framework for privacy, the FCC should follow their neighbors on Pennsylvania NW and mirror the FTC’s policies. If it ain’t broke, and all that.

By utilizing a balanced, technology-neutral approach to privacy, the FCC can back their claims of protecting consumers from bad practices while still keeping the digital economy growing. Most of all, sticking with what has already been proven to work will dispel confusion and needless hoops for consumers to jump through just to visit their favorite websites. It will also make sure every business involving the internet, from ISPs to edge providers and online companies, are all playing by the same rules. As our own Rick Boucher wrote for The Hill back in May of this year:

If and until Congress acts to require edge providers to respect consumer privacy, the only way to assure parity of treatment across the ecosystem and give consumers clear privacy expectations is to rely entirely on the FTC to lightly oversee privacy for both ISPs and edge providers.


Monday, April 18

Boucher on Netflix’s Deception

By Brad

Over at Multichannel News, our own Rick Boucher has written a piece examining Netflix’s admission that it has reduced video speeds for the customers of two wireless providers. An excerpt:

Netflix’s stunning admission that, for five years, it reduced the video speeds of customers of Verizon Wireless and AT&T Wireless — while not doing so for customers of Sprint and T-Mobile — is little short of breathtaking. It was an exercise in hypocrisy to claim that broadband providers were degrading the quality of its video when, in fact, Netflix — without notifying its customers — was doing precisely that.
Recall the history here to understand why Netflix’s actions were so brazen and deserving of governmental review. Traditionally, peering agreements among content networks and last-mile Internet-service providers (ISPs) were never regulated, but were always negotiated between private parties.
For Netflix, arm’s-length negotiations posed a problem, because as the share of total bandwidth taken by its content grew (up to 37% at peak hours, according to one survey in March of 2015), its position became ever more untenable. It wanted ISPs to build more bandwidth to consumers for Netflx’s use, but it didn’t want to help pay for that. It didn’t want its own business model constrained.

You can read Boucher’s full piece, titled “Netflix’s ‘House of Cards’ Collapses,” over at Multichannel News.

Monday, June 23

The Never-Ending Net Neutrality Debate, Episode 7,432

By Brad

At The Hill, Kate Tummarello reports that House Republicans want to take the net neutrality issue out of the FCC’s hands:

Republicans on a House panel want the country’s antitrust regulators, not its telecom regulators, to take the lead on net neutrality.

During a Friday hearing held by the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Antitrust Law, Republicans questioned the need for net neutrality regulation from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

“The Internet has flourished precisely because it is a deregulated market” and should be kept open through “vigorous application of the antitrust laws,” House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said.

The idea, according to Tummarello, is for the Federal Trade Commission to take the reigns:

“As regulatory proceedings continue to stretch on, a question I have is whether there might be a more efficient and more effective way to safeguard against potential discriminatory behavior than federal rulemaking,” Subcommittee Chairman Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.) said in his opening statement.

“That is where antitrust law comes in.”

Friday, March 08

The War on Spam

By Brad

Some good news in the always raging war on spam. As Brendan Sasso of The HIll reports:

The Federal Trade Commission charged 29 people on Thursday with illegally sending unwanted spam text messages.

In eight complaints filed in courtrooms around the country, the FTC accused the defendants of collectively sending 180 million messages claiming to offer free prizes, such as gift cards worth $1,000 to Best Buy, Walmart or Target.

But when people tried to redeem the prizes, they were sent to websites requesting sensitive personal information, the FTC said. The websites often claimed that they were only collecting shipping information, but they would sell the data to third-parties, according to the complaints.

While charges against 29 alleged spammers is just a drop in the spam ocean, it’s good to see the FTC taking action — especially since text spam can often hurt consumer wallets just by being sent.

Friday, January 04

Closing the Books on Google

By Brad

Yesterday, the Federal Trade Commission closed its antitrust investigation of search giant Google.  At Politico, Tony Romm examines how the company “beat the feds.”

Instead of ignoring Washington — as rival Microsoft did before its costly monopolization trial in the 1990s — Google spent about $25 million in lobbying, made an effort to cozy up to the Obama administration and hired influential Republicans and former regulators. The company even consulted with the late Robert Bork and The Heritage Foundation and met with senators like John Kerry to make its case. In other words, these traditional outsiders worked the system from the inside.

This calculated and expensive charm offensive paid off Thursday when the Federal Trade Commission decided not to challenge the company’s dominance of the Internet search business in court and settled the investigation with what critics allege is a slap on the wrist.

One of those critics of the decision, Microsoft Vice President & Deputy General Counsel Dave Heiner, called the FTC’s investigation a “missed opportunity” on the company’s blog Technet:

As we know from experience, one of the litmus tests of any antitrust outcome is the set of statements made by a company on the day that the outcome is announced. Has the company truly learned from the experience? Does it acknowledge that its practices raise serious antitrust issues?

In response to a question at his press conference today, Chairman Leibowitz said that he doesn’t believe that Google will be emboldened by today’s FTC decisions. But Google seems to be walking with a new spring in its step today. As Google’s official statement on its public blog today put it, “The U.S. Federal Trade Commission today announced it has closed its investigation into Google after an exhaustive 19-month review that covered millions of pages of documents and involved many hours of testimony. The conclusion is clear: Google’s services are good for users and good for competition.”

In other words, there appears to be no reason, despite the FTC’s optimistic statements this morning, to believe that Google recognizes its responsibilities as an industry leader. That is certainly consistent with the lack of change we continue to witness as we and so many others experience ongoing harm to competition in the marketplace.


Wednesday, January 02

Senate Approvals

By Brad

Via Brendan Sasso of The Hill, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn has been approved by the Senate for another term on the Commission:

In a statement, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said he looks forward to continuing to work with her.

“Commissioner Clyburn is an excellent and dedicated public servant and has been a strong advocate in seeking to extend the benefits of broadband to all Americans,” he said.

Also approved was Republican Joshua Wright for the Federal Trade Commission. Interestingly, Wright has agreed to recuse himself from any FTC cases involving Google for at least two years due to the search/advertising giant having funded Wright’s academic research.

Friday, November 02

Patents in FTC Crosshairs

By Brad

Back in 2011, search giant Google bought Motorola Mobilty for $12 billion. At the time, it was believed a driving force behind the acquisition was Motorola’s extensive patent portfolio. Now, as Sara Forden of Bloomberg reports, that portfolio has gained the attention of the Federal Trade Commission:

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission should sue Google Inc. for trying to block competitors’ access to key smartphone-technology patents in violation of antitrust law, the agency’s staff told commissioners in a formal recommendation, according to four people familiar with the matter.

A majority of the agency’s five commissioners are inclined to sue, according to the people, who declined to be identified because the matter isn’t public. A final decision on the staff recommendation, made last month, isn’t likely until after the Nov. 6 presidential election, they said.

Wednesday, August 01

Children & Online Privacy

By Brad

At the Washington Post, Cecilia Kang reports on a renewed focus on online privacy by the FTC:

The Federal Trade Commission said Wednesday it is considering online privacy rules that would make it harder for advertisers and social networks to collect information about children without permission from parents.

The FTC said its proposed rules would require third-party partners of Web sites, including “plug-ins” and ad networks, to ask parents for permission to collect information about users under 12 years of age.

Wednesday, July 11

Number of the Day

By Brad

$22.5 million, which is the amount the Federal Trade Commission will reportedly fine Google for overriding Apple’s privacy settings for its mobile Safari web browser. It would be the biggest fine the FTC has ever levied against a single company.

Monday, April 30

The Latest Front in the War on Spam

By Brad

If you’ve noticed an uptick in spam hitting your mobile phone, you’re not alone. As Bloomberg’s Olga Kharif reports:

The unwelcome messages that have been clogging e-mail inboxes for two decades have made the jump to handsets, as more people use smartphones in place of personal computers and texting becomes more popular. The number of U.S. spam text messages rose 45 percent last year to 4.5 billion messages, said Richi Jennings, an industry analyst. Spam phone calls also are proliferating. The surge is costing carriers money and frustrating users, who must pay for the messages and deal with potentially fraudulent texts.

Kharif goes on to report that carriers and the Federal Trade Commission are actively working to stop — or at least slow down — the problem.

Wednesday, April 25

Time For Open Spectrum Auctions

By Brad

In an op-ed for Forbes, former Federal Trade Commission policy director David Balto argues the FCC needs to move faster in freeing up more spectrum for wireless use, and they need to make sure spectrum auctions are open to everyone. As he writes:

It is important to allow voluntary incentive auctions to occur, and to permit all market participants to take part, with the right to bid on all blocks of spectrum without restrictions. This is the only way we can be sure the private sector can continue to develop the tools and infrastructure required to advance our wireless broadband infrastructure. Empowering the FCC to implement a biased process that favors some companies over others may end up hurting consumers even more by blocking some national wireless carriers from investing in and building out high-speed mobile broadband networks to meet the demands of more than 200 million wireless customers across America.

The government shouldn’t be in the business of deciding what is good for some customers and not others, and attempting to reshape the market and drive consumers to certain competitors. Consumers should be making those decisions on their own based on things important to them, like service quality, innovative devices and more.

Balto’s entire op-ed is worth checking out.

Friday, September 09

No, Smartphones Will Not Cure Acne

By Brad

The idea that a smartphone app could clear your face of blemishes seems preposterous, but evidently enough people were being taken in by a scam that the Federal Trade Commission felt the need to step in. Via an FTC press release:

Marketers who advertised that their smartphone applications could treat acne have agreed to stop making baseless claims in order to settle FTC charges. The mobile applications, commonly referred to as “apps,” were sold in Apple’s iTunes Store and Google’s Android Marketplace. The settlements in two separate cases would bar the marketers from making certain health-related claims without scientific evidence.

Smartphones make our lives easier in countless ways, but unfortunately when it comes to curing acne, there’s no app for that,” said FTC Chairman, Jon Leibowitz.

Thursday, August 18

Slowing Job Creation

By Brad

In an opinion piece for CNN, Michael Mandel of the Progressive Policy Institute argues regulations are slowing innovation and much-needed job creation. Highlighting the Federal Trade Commission’s recent investigation into Google, Mandel also looks at the FCC’s slow movement on the proposed merger of AT&T and T-Mobile:

For example,  AT&T invested $19.5 billion in the U.S in 2010, more than any other corporation, at a time when most companies are hoarding cash. But instead of applauding AT&T’s willingness to spend and create jobs, regulators at the Federal Communications Commission have recently decided to slow down their reviews of both AT&T’s bid to merge with T-Mobile and the company’s earlier proposal to buy wireless licenses from Qualcomm, which has been pending since February. The Commission’s slowdown pace adds uncertainty to the marketplace and keeps investment plans from moving forward.

The full op-ed is worth checking out. Mandel will also be taking part in our next press teleconference, which is happening next Wednesday at 2 pm ET.

Thursday, June 23

Today in Legalities

By Brad

Looks like two tech giants may soon have (new) legal hurdles ahead of them. First up, Google, which Thomas Catan of the Wall Street Journal reports, is about to receive more government attention:

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission is poised to serve Google Inc. with civil subpoenas, according to people familiar with the matter, signaling the start of a wide-ranging, formal antitrust investigation into whether the search giant has abused its dominance on the Web.

The five-member commission is preparing to send Google the formal demands for information within days, the people said. Other companies are also likely receive official requests for information about their dealings with Google at a later stage, they said.

Meanwhile, Apple could soon be facing government scrutiny of its own — only not here in the States. Via John Ribeiro at PC World:

Apple may face scrutiny from an Indian regulator for alleged anticompetitive behavior in connection with iPhone 4 sales in India.

A Competition Commission of India official said on Wednesday that a case was filed against Apple about a month ago. The complaint alleges that the company violated competition law by selling the iPhone 4 through only two mobile operators, Bharti Airtel and Aircel.

Tuesday, April 05

Getting Attention From the FTC

By Brad

Via Jeff Bliss and Sara Forden of Bloomberg, the Federal Trade Commission may be launching an antitrust investigation into Google:

An FTC investigation of Google, the world’s most popular search engine, “could be on par” with the scope of the Justice Department’s probe of Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) a decade ago, said Keith Hylton, an antitrust law professor at Boston University School of Law. Google “could fight the FTC, but that’s going to cost a lot of money and time.”

The investigation would center around Google’s massive share in the search business. Last week, Microsoft urged the European Union to launch a similar antitrust investigation into its rival in search.

Wednesday, March 30

Settling the Buzz Debacle

By Brad

Last February, Google jumped on the micro-blogging scene when it launched Google Buzz. Things didn’t quite go as planned, however, and the launch quickly fired up privacy concerns. Now, over a year later, the online search giant has settled with the Federal Trade Commission over the botched launch. Jacqui Cheng of Ars Technica reports on the settlement:

Google is barred from misrepresenting privacy settings to its users and must now obtain consent before sharing information with third parties—including when Google makes any sort of change to its existing services. Google also must establish and maintain a “comprehensive privacy program” for the next 20 years. The Commission voted unanimously in favor of the settlement agreement.

Google’s take on the settlement is posted on the company’s official blog.

Friday, February 18

Earning the Eye of Regulators

By Brad

Earlier this week, Apple announced new terms for content providers using its popular iTunes service to deliver content on iPhones and iPads. Now they may be getting a closer look at their business plans from regulators. Via Thomas Catan and Nathan Koppel of the Wall Street Journal:

The Justice Department and the FTC are both interested in examining whether Apple is running afoul of U.S. antitrust laws by funneling media companies’ customers into the payment system for its iTunes store—and taking a 30% cut, the people familiar with the situation said. The agencies both enforce federal antitrust laws and would have to decide which one of them would take the lead in the matter.

Wednesday, February 09

Joining the FTC

By Brad

The Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang reports that Tim Wu, law professor and originator of the term “net neutrality,” has taken a position as senior advisor at the Federal Trade Commission.

Monday, January 31

Done Deal

By Brad

After more than a year of negotiations and regulatory uncertainty, the Comcast merger with NBC Universal is now complete.

Thursday, January 13

The Next Tech Fight

By Brad

With the net neutrality debate having been settled (for now), a new tech fight is brewing on Capitol Hill: search neutrality. Reports Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post:

Google search engine guru Matt Cutts met with members of the Federal Trade Commission and staff on Capitol Hill this week to argue why the firm opposes federal rules on Internet search results.

The visit, what Cutts calls his “education tour,” comes as Washington and Europe have been focusing on the search giant’s business practices. European regulators have launched an investigation brought by complaints from some companies that Google has purposefully lowered their rankings, making it difficult to compete.

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