Congress and the FCC have asked AT&T, Mobilewalla and Verizon about a common-yet-secretive industry practice they call surveillance: the siphoning of bidstream data. Now the Interactive Advertising Bureau is busier than ever on Capitol Hill, bracing for a possible Democratic turnover in the Senate which could turn up the heat on this and other practices within the ad industry. Amid heightened scrutiny over digital data usage, lawmakers and regulators want details of a common-yet-secretive industry practice they call surveillance: the siphoning of bidstream data. The top lobbyist from the digital ad industry’s most powerful trade group says he is in more contact than ever over the last couple of months regarding the issue with legislative staffers on Capitol Hill. The Interactive Advertising Bureau’s communications with federal lawmakers “have now been ratcheted up a hundred times more than even two months ago,” says Dave Grimaldi, executive vice-president, public policy at the IAB. Bidstream data gives advertisers who bid on ad space through real-time exchanges information about who would be reached with a targeted ad. It might include demographic data or information about someone’s interests. In the mobile ad environment, it can include latitudinal and longitudinal coordinates or more precise locations. Data points from the bidstream can be extracted by any of the countless ad tech and data firms that participate in a bid – not only the bid winner. Companies suck up data from the bidstream to produce other data products, or to package and sell to targetable audiences. People in the market to buy a car or a new phone, for example. However, lawmakers worry it is sometimes used in ways that violate privacy and enable deceptive business activity. Grimaldi says the IAB’s public policy council members have helped explain to lawmakers how bidstream data is used in the ad exchange process. There are no industry standards or rules established by the IAB or Mobile Marketing Association against the practice, though it is frowned upon, in part because it stretches the meaning of consumer consent for data use. Mobilewalla’s ‘outrageous’ BLM analysis backfires Concerns heated up in June when mobile data firm Mobilewalla, an IAB member, announced in a press release that it had analyzed ethnicity, age and geographic information associated with Black Lives Matter protestors. The company’s CEO said the location data analysis provided “a better understanding of the impact of this historic protest.” But lawmakers called it surveillance. “Few Americans realize that companies are siphoning off and storing that ‘bidstream’ data to compile exhaustive dossiers about them,” wrote a bipartisan group of legislators including Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) in a July letter asking the Federal Trade Commission to determine whether ad tech data practices violate the FTC act. Their request spotlighted Mobilewalla’s analysis of BLM protestors as an example of how bidstream data is used “in outrageous ways that violate Americans’ privacy.” The FTC won’t say whether it is probing bidstream data gathering, but its chairman did respond to lawmakers. “In order to fully address the concerns mentioned in your letter,” wrote FTC Chairman Joseph Simons in a letter to Wyden obtained by The Drum, “we need a new federal privacy law, enforceable by the FTC, that gives us authority to seek civil penalties for first-time violations and jurisdiction over non-profits and common carriers.” In questions sent separately to Mobilewalla, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and other legislators asked the company to provide details of its “disturbing” use of bidstream data. “Mobilewalla has and will respond to any request received from Congress or the FTC,” a Mobilewalla spokesperson tells The Drum, declining to provide further detail. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Geoffrey Starks also wants to know how location data from AT&T and Verizon winds its way through the bidstream, and in August he sent the telcos an inquiry about it. AT&T and Verizon did not respond to a request to comment for this story. Avoiding the dirty little secrets: As lawmakers and regulators scrutinize the data fueling the digital ad industry, marketers should ask their ad tech partners how the information that enables their advertising might be used down the road. Bidstream siphoning accepted but downplayed Like other data providers that use bidstream data, Mobilewalla concocts consumer audience insights by blending a cocktail of information it gets from mostly-unnamed app publishers, data aggregators and other suppliers. It is not known whether bidstream data was used by Mobilewalla in its analysis of protestors. However, Mobilewalla told The Drum approximately 5% of its data is derived from bidstreams. Ad tech firms and data providers downplay their use of bidstream data. For example, when David Staas, president of mobile data firm NinthDecimal described the firm’s data sources to GeoMarketing, he said, “The vast majority of NinthDecimal’s data is non-bid stream data.” To some publishers, using bidstream data for purposes beyond serving an ad feels a lot like stealing. BPA Worldwide, which runs a programmatic media exchange, is trying to raise awareness among its B2B publishing members. “We started to realize what potentially could be happening in the bidstream and how the data could be captured by someone with no intention to advertise [but instead to] repurpose that data in a derivative work,” says Glenn Hansen, CEO of BPA Worldwide. Bracing for Democratic control Currently, the IAB is among industry and civil liberties groups evaluating a draft of Wyden’s Fourth Amendment is Not For Sale Act. It would prevent the government from buying or acquiring Americans’ personal information – which could include location information derived through the bidstream – if the government would otherwise need a court order to obtain it. “We are continuing to finalize details,” says a spokesperson from Wyden’s office. Another common source of location data used by ad tech and data firms, mobile app Software Development Kits (SDKs), is under the microscope, too. “We’ve been told by a number of senior congressional staff that the black box behind SDKs is truly a source of great curiosity and concern,” says the IAB’s Grimaldi. If Democrats win control of the Senate, it could turn up the heat on bidstream siphoning even more, says Grimaldi. The IAB hopes to influence comprehensive federal privacy legislation which is likely to come sooner if there’s a leadership changeover. Says Grimaldi, “It’s is going to whipsaw back around where you are going to have multiple hearings a week.”  To keep up with all our daily US solutions, sign up for the free daily briefing newsletter. Avoiding the dirty little secrets: As lawmakers and regulators scrutinize the data fueling the digital ad industry, marketers should ask their ad tech partners how the information that enables their advertising might be used down the road.
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Chairman Ajit Pai says he hopes for 'vigorous debate' on the administration's petition to limit legal liability for social media giants Twitter and Facebook.
"Tell the FCC to reject this," Democrat says as agency seeks public comment.
Guess what? Literally everyone thinks this is a terrible idea The US Department of Commerce (DoC) has formally asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to review a critical law that provides blanket liability to online platforms such as Google and Facebook.…
Trump admin petitions FCC to reinterpret Section 230’s legal protections.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which says apps and websites aren’t legally liable for third-party content, has inspired a lot of overheated rhetoric in Congress. Republicans like Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) have successfully framed the rule as a “gift to Big Tech” that enables social media censorship. While Democrats have very different critiques, some have embraced a similar fire-and-brimstone tone with the bipartisan EARN IT Act. But a Senate subcommittee tried to reset that narrative today with a hearing for the Platform Accountability and Consumer Transparency (PACT) Act, a similarly bipartisan attempt at a more nuanced Section 230 amendment. While the hearing didn’t address all of the PACT Act’s very real flaws, it... Continue reading…
Republican Commissioners Brendan Carr and Michael O'Rielly backed Chairman Ajit Pai's proposal to allow the merger, while Democrats Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks voted against it.But the companies won't be completing the merger just yet, as they face a lawsuit from a group of state attorneys general who are trying to block the deal.But the final document should reflect what Chairman Pai proposed in May, requiring the merged company to deploy 5G to 97% of the US population within three years and to 99% of Americans within six years.That includes deploying 5G to 85% of rural Americans within three years and 90% within six years.Commissioner Starks had called for the FCC to halt its merger proceeding while the agency investigates a discovery that Sprint took millions of dollars in government subsidies for "serving" 885,000 low-income Americans who weren't using Sprint service.Sprint took FCC cash for “serving” 885,000 people it wasn’t actually serving
Speaking at the Competitive Carriers Association annual conference, Starks targeted the Chinese telecommunications industry on the whole, and Huawei in particular.“Huawei is one of the biggest telecom equipment manufacturers in the world, and although its share of the U.S. telecom market is relatively small, some wireless carriers have purchased Huawei equipment for their networks,” Starks said.“These carriers bought this equipment, often a decade or more ago, because it was far less expensive than other options, and because Huawei was willing to work with them to create customized networks.“The Commission is currently examining whether to ban the use of federal support dollars for the purchase of such equipment, but we can’t ignore the problem of the equipment that’s already here.”Starks is the FCC frontman for a new programme which has been known as ‘Find it, Fix it, Fund it’.The initiative will provide funding to telcos to self-assess networks and identify what would be deemed as ‘suspect equipment’.
Huawei has said it will increase its investment in 5G in spite of its US ban.The Chinese tech giant also made a point of emphasizing cybersecurity and privacy as its "top priorities."Huawei was blacklisted last month, being added to the United State's "entity list" (PDF).In addition, President Donald Trump signed an executive order essentially banning the company in light of national security concerns that Huawei had close ties with the Chinese government.Huawei has repeatedly denied that charge.Speaking at Huawei's annual User Group Meeting in Wuzhen, Zhejiang, Huawei Carrier CEO Ryan Ding said the Chinese tech giant will continue providing 5G products and partnering with carriers to build a "fully connected, intelligent world."
Federal Communications Commissioner Geoffrey Starks is leading an effort to scrub US telecommunications networks of gear from companies such as Huawei that're thought of as a threat to the country's security.With US operators racing toward deploying gear to build the next generation of wireless, known as 5G, the Commerce Department has blacklisted Huawei and several other companies because of national security concerns.The main issue with Huawei is its cozy relationship with the Chinese government.In May, President Donald Trump issued an executive order effectively banning new Huawei gear from US communications networks.The FCC is already considering prohibiting carriers with such gear from accessing broadband subsidies, but Starks says the government should go one step further to weed out equipment from vendors like Huawei that the US government says poses significant risks.As a lawyer in the Office of the Deputy Attorney General at the Department of Justice, under Barack Obama appointee Eric Holder, he provided advice on domestic and international law enforcement issues, including civil, criminal and national security matters.
The FCC voted unanimously today to allow carriers to block robocalls by default, setting the stage for the major carriers to take action against the surge of unwanted automated calls that basically everyone hates.The agency also voted to move forward on a proposed rule that would require carriers to adopt the SHAKEN / STIR caller ID authentication system if they don’t do it themselves by year-end.Robocalls are one of the few issues the FCC is totally aligned on — the unwanted calls are by far the number one issue consumers file complaints about.Pai, a Republican, has called them the “scourge of civilization,” while Geoffrey Starks, a Democrat, said that the unwanted calls have “changed the fabric of our culture” when he appeared on The Vergecast last month.The vote comes just two weeks after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed the blocking rule, which he said was designed to give carriers “certainty” about whether automatic blocking was allowed or not.Carriers like AT and T-Mobile have offered robocall-blocking services for a while, but they were opt-in; the new rule gives them cover to enable those services by default, and restrict calls to numbers that are already in your contact list.
To hear the Federal Communications Commission tell it, this is a golden age for broadband access in the United States.According to a newly released report from the agency on the digital divide, the gap between rural and urban internet access has “narrowed substantially, and more Americans than ever before have access to high-speed broadband.” Between the end of 2016 and the end of 2017, the number of Americans without broadband access fell from about 26 million to about 21 million, the report found.The data underlying it, they argue, doesn’t truly capture what broadband looks like in rural America — leaving lawmakers and government officials with a warped view of internet access.But the 2019 version of the report has come with an unusual amount of political baggage, and is raising hard questions over the quality of the data used in the process.“And we must have accurate data about the problem we are trying to solve and the progress we are making toward solving it in order to make effective, data-driven decisions.”To generate the report, the FCC relies on data from service providers.
The three Republicans on the FCC, Chairman Ajit Pai, Brendan Carr and Michael O'Rielly supported the conclusions of the report.But Democrats Jessica Rosenworcel and Geoffrey Starks G dissented.The FCC's annual report, which is mandated by Congress, is supposed to be used by the agency to help form policies and regulation to promote the deployment of broadband.In recent years, the conclusion of the report has become politicized with Democrats and Republicans breaking along party lines.The Democrats pointed to the millions of people still without access to high-speed broadband as the main reason to give the agency a failing grade.Rosenworcel said in her dissent that the number of people without broadband is still significant and more needs to be done to ensure they get connected.
The FCC has officially issued this year’s Broadband Deployment Report, summarizing the extent to which the agency and industry have closed the digital divide in this country.As a result of those efforts, the digital divide has narrowed substantially, and more Americans than ever before have access to high-speed broadband.We find, for a second consecutive year, that advanced telecommunications capability is being deployed on a reasonable and timely basis.Naturally the FCC wants to highlight the progress made rather than linger on failures, but this year the latter are highly germane, as Starks points out, largely because one error in particular threw off the results by millions.The statistics in the report are based on forms filled out by broadband providers, which seem to go unchecked even in the case of massive outliers.Barrier Free broadband reported having gone from zero subscribers in March of 2017 to, seven months later, serving the entirety of New York state’s 62 million residents with state of the art gigabit fiber connections.
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