Civil Rights Groups That Received Donations From ISPs Spoke Out Against Internet Privacy

Image courtesy of KogeLiz

The Federal Communication Commission’s internet privacy regulations would have prevented your internet provider from using and selling some potentially sensitive information about you, but the Senate and the House of Representatives voted to roll back the regulations. As the bill awaits the President’s signature, we’ve learned that some of the community groups that contacted the FCC to oppose privacy regulations are recipients of donations from Comcast.

The Intercept put this information together, and it goes back to last year, when the FCC was still working on the privacy rules.

In a letter put together by the Multicultural Media, Telecom and Internet Council and co-signed by the League of United Latin American Citizens and OCA-Asian Pacific American Advocates, the groups contend that considering all browsing data private by default means that poor people might miss out on some coupons or other discounts they might learn about through targeted advertising.

“Many consumers, especially those households with limited incomes, appreciate receiving relevant advertising that is keyed to their interests and provides them with discounts on the products and services they use,” the groups explained in their letter to the FCC.

That’s true, and is precisely why the privacy regulations allowed consumers to opt out if they wanted to. Any information that you leave in the control of your ISP to use and sell can be used for purposes that you didn’t intend.

Note that all three groups have been recipients of money and “advice,” “assistance,” or “corporate guidance” from telecoms. While detailed donation information isn’t public, the Intercept was able to discover that OCA, for example, has received substantial donations from Comcast and Verizon.

Comcast donated $240,000 to LULAC in an eight-year span from 2004 to 2012. AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Charter, and Verizon are also part of the group’s network of corporate benefactors.

The Intercept asked OCA and LULAC if ISP industry money influenced their decision to engage on the privacy rule and did not receive an immediate response. We also reached out to OCA and LULAC for comment on The Intercept’s story and will update this post if we hear back.

When The Intercept took the letter and information about telecoms’ donations to these groups to activists for digital culture and for civil rights, they disagreed with the arguments made, to put it lightly.

“The data that big corporations collect from black and brown families leads to predatory marketing that starts from a young age and lasts for a lifetime — everything from payday loans to junk food advertising,” Brandi Collins of Color of Change told the Intercept. “Even the most innocuous information can be used for online price gouging, data discrimination, and digital redlining.