Kate Tummarello

Privacy groups mull action after Facebook deal with fitness app

Privacy groups are considering asking the federal government to intervene in Facebook’s recent purchase of fitness app Moves.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center and the Center for Digital Democracy both said that they are considering asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Facebook’s acquisition of Moves.

The new policy says the company “may share information, including personally identifying information, with our Affiliates (companies that are part of our corporate groups of companies, including but not limited to Facebook) to help provide, understand, and improve our Services.”

A Facebook spokeswoman said that Moves user data will not be integrated into Facebook's profiles of users. Instead, the company will use the data to to support the app, the spokeswoman said.

Privacy advocates expressed concerns about the updated policy. “The fact that they’ve changed their privacy policy so quickly is disappointing” and “deserves some investigation,” Julia Horwitz, consumer protection counsel at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, said he is “exploring FTC regulatory action.”

New campaign calls out President Obama for network neutrality campaign pledge

As the Federal Communications Commission considers allowing Internet “fast lanes,” the Progressive Change Campaign Committee is looking to hold President Barack Obama accountable to the commitment he made to an online “level playing field” during his 2008 campaign.

The campaign’s site hosts a video from a 2007 campaign event where then-Sen Obama described himself as “a strong supporter of net neutrality.” Internet providers should not “charge different rates to different websites,” because that “destroys one of the best things about the Internet, which is there’s this incredible equality there” he said.

Companies like Google and Facebook “might not have been started if you had not had a level playing field for whoever’s got the best idea, and I want to maintain that basic principle in how the Internet functions,” he said. As President, he said, he would “make sure that that’s the principle that my FCC commissioners are applying as we move forward.”

oe Niederberger, who posed the net neutrality question to Obama in 2007 and is now behind NoSlowLane.com, criticized the Obama Administration for the current plan to allow Internet “fast lanes.” “The new FCC chair should carry out the president’s promise and support net neutrality,” he said in a video on the site.

Broadcasters victorious as radio bill gains 219 sponsors

A broadcaster-backed effort to keep local radio stations from paying musicians for songs has gained the support of more than half of the House of Representatives.

As some members push measures that would require AM/FM radio stations to pay for the songs they play, 219 members of the House have signed onto the Local Radio Freedom Act. That resolution -- introduced by Reps Michael Conway (R-TX) and Gene Green (D-TX) in early 2013 -- prohibits "any new performance fee, tax, royalty, or other charge” on local AM/FM radio stations.

The Senate companion resolution was introduced in 2013 by Sens John Barrasso (R-WY) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND); 12 other senators back it. Though AM/FM radio stations do not currently have to pay artists for songs the stations broadcast, some members of Congress are pushing bills that would require radio stations to pay these “royalty fees.”

According to the National Association of Broadcasters, the large number of supporters backing the Local Radio Freedom Act indicates that many in Congress agree that radio royalty fees aren’t needed.

Sen Franken: FCC chief's plan for ‘fast lanes’ will ‘destroy’ Internet

Sen Al Franken (D-MN) called a proposal at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to allow Internet “fast lanes” an “affront to net neutrality" that will "destroy" the open Internet.

In a letter, Sen Franken asked FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler to reconsider his current plans to rewrite the agency’s net neutrality rules in a way that allows some content companies to pay for better access to Internet providers’ subscribers.

“This proposal would create an online ‘fast lane’ for the highest bidder -- shutting out small business and increasing costs for consumers,” Sen Franken wrote. “I strongly urge you to reconsider this misguided approach and recommit to protecting the Open Internet for all Americans.”

FCC’s Wheeler: AT&T bluffing on boycott threat

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said he doesn’t believe AT&T will sit out of the agency's highly anticipated airwaves auction in 2015.

He pointed to AT&T's past insistence that it needs more airwaves for its growing mobile business.

“I have a hard time envisioning this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for this kind of beach-front spectrum being something that people throw up their hands and walk away from,” he said.

“Nobody is compelling anybody to participate in the spectrum auction,” he said. “Whether the broadcasters sell or the wireless carriers buy is entirely a function of their own free will and a marketplace that we create."

Lawmakers push advertisers to stop supporting pirate sites

Members of the Congressional International Anti-Piracy Caucus are asking online ad networks to do more to keep advertisements off websites that promote online piracy.

"Only through proactive efforts will the harms associated with ad-supported piracy be mitigated," the caucus wrote in identical letters to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, the American Association of Advertising Agencies and the Association of National Advertisers.

The caucus is led by House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), Rep Adam Schiff (D-CA), Sen Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Sen Orrin Hatch (R-UT). The group of lawmakers called on the ad networks to develop "greater specificity" around steps to prevent legitimate ads from ever appearing on pirate sites, as well as ways to measure how effective those steps are.

FCC chief defends plan to limit large carriers in auction

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is defending plans to limit large wireless carriers when the federal government auctions off airwaves worth billions of dollars in 2015.

In a letter to House members, FCC Chairman Wheeler said the agency is designing the highly anticipated auction with "equity and openness in mind" to "deliver to consumers, regardless of their zip code, greater wireless competition, improved services and lower costs." Chairman Wheeler's letter is in response to a letter from 78 House Democrats who asked him to allow unlimited competition among wireless carriers in the 2015 auction. That auction will involve buying airwaves from broadcasters, repackaging those airwaves and selling them to spectrum-hungry wireless companies.

Revenue from the 2015 auction, as well as from two airwave auctions in 2014, will go toward funding a nationwide network for first-responders.

"My proposal would reserve a modest amount of this low-band spectrum in each market for providers that, as a result of the historical accident of previous spectrum assignments, lack such low-band capacity," Chairman Wheeler wrote, adding that the proposal will "contain safeguards to ensure that all bidders for reserved spectrum licenses bear a fair share of the cost of making incentive payments to broadcasters."

Chairman Wheeler pointed to wireless companies' need for low-frequency spectrum, especially in rural areas. "Today, most of this low-band spectrum is in the hands of just two providers," he said. "The Incentive Auction offers the opportunity, possibly the last for years to come, to make low-band spectrum available to any mobile wireless provider, in any market, that is willing and able to compete at auction."

Chairman Wheeler said he agreed with lawmakers looking to incentivize broadcasters and wireless companies to participate.

Sen Franken asks Netflix to join fight against Comcast deal

Sen Al Franken (D-MN) is asking Netflix to weigh in on the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable. In a letter, Sen Franken asked Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who recently took to his company's blog to slam Comcast, to "gauge the risks posed by this deal."

Sen Franken has been one of Congress's most vocal opponents of a deal to combine the country's top two cable companies, which is currently being evaluated by the Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and television appearances, Sen Franken pushed back on the companies' claims that a merger would help them compete against telecoms like AT&T and Verizon and Internet media companies like Netflix. Instead, Sen Franken said the merger would add to Comcast's market share, giving it too much leverage over customers and Internet content providers.

In his letter, Franken noted the "extensive programming portfolio" -- which Comcast acquired when it purchased NBC Universal in 2011 -- that makes it a competitor to Netflix. A Netflix spokesman said the company has "received senator Franken's letter and plan[s] to respond to his inquiry."

AT&T threatens to boycott airwave auction

AT&T is threatening to sit out the Federal Communications Commission’s highly anticipated spectrum auction in 2015, which will sell billions of dollars’ worth of airwaves.

As the FCC plans the auction, it is considering "complicated and unnecessary" restrictions on large companies, AT&T Vice President Joan Marsh said. “Such restrictions would put AT&T in an untenable position, forcing AT&T to reevaluate its potential participation in the auction,” Marsh wrote.

AT&T’s filing pointed to the auction’s x-factors, including where the FCC sets the revenue benchmark. The proposal in front of the agency -- which will be voted on at the FCC’s May meeting -- “does not define the threshold for initiation of the restrictions, instead deferring this determination to a subsequent order,” Marsh wrote. She urged the FCC to set the benchmark “at a significant and material level” to keep the small wireless carriers from getting the airwaves “at a discount that the FCC cannot afford to give in this auction.”

Marsh also noted the uncertainty around how much of their airwaves broadcasters will be willing to sell back. If they’re only willing to sell back 60 MHz or less, AT&T and Verizon will be forced to split the available three 10-MHz blocks.

“The restrictions would thus put AT&T in an untenable and unacceptable position,” the filing said. “AT&T could either participate in the auction, accepting that it will likely obtain only a fragmented and inefficient 600 MHz footprint, or it can choose to withhold its capital for other investments and sit out of the auction entirely.”

House privacy group talks with FTC

The House Commerce Privacy Working Group met with Federal Trade Commission (FTC) officials as part of an ongoing series of meetings to examine online privacy that began last fall.

The group, led by co-chairmen Reps Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Peter Welch (D-VT), met with Democratic Commissioner Julie Brill and Republican Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen to discuss the agency's role in protecting online privacy.

In a prepared statement for the group, Commissioner Brill outlined the ways in which the FTC gets involved in the online privacy space, including bringing charges against companies that fail to adequately protect consumer data from data breaches and companies that mislead consumers about their data collection and sharing practices. Speaking before the afternoon meeting with Commissioners Brill and Ohlhausen, Rep Welch said the meetings with tech companies and privacy advocates thus far have been educational for members.