Raises pri­vacy con­cerns

FCC poised to let broad­cast­ers gather data on view­ers so ad­ver­tis­ers can tai­lor pitches

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY TODD SHIELDS AND GERRY SMITH Bloomberg News

Tar­geted ads that seem to fol­low you ev­ery­where on­line may soon be do­ing the same on your TV.

The Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion is poised to ap­prove a new broad­cast stan­dard that will let broad­cast­ers do some­thing ca­ble TV com­pa­nies al­ready do: har­vest data about what you watch so ad­ver­tis­ers can cus­tom­ize pitches.

The prospect alarms pri­vacy ad­vo­cates, who say there are no rules set­ting bound­aries for how broad­cast­ers han­dle per­sonal in­for­ma­tion. The FCC doesn’t men­tion pri­vacy in the 109-page pro­posed rule that is sched­uled for a vote by com­mis­sion­ers Thurs­day.

“If the new stan­dard al­lows broad­cast­ers to col­lect data in a way they haven’t be­fore, I think con­sumers should know about that,” Jonathan Sch­wantes, se­nior pol­icy coun­sel for Con­sumers Union, said in an in­ter­view. “What pri­vacy pro­tec­tions will ap­ply to that data, and what se­cu­rity pro­tec­tions?"

For broad­cast­ers, Next Gen TV rep­re­sents an ad­vance into the dig­i­tal world that for decades has been si­phon­ing view­ers away to the likes of Face­book Inc., Net­flix Inc., Google’s YouTube and Ama­zon.com Inc.’s Prime video ser­vice.

Sin­clair Broad­cast Group Inc. and other TV sta­tion own­ers say the new stan­dard, known as Next Gen TV, will pro­vide sharper pic­tures and video on de­mand. It will also al­low them to track view­ers of their pro­gram­ming on tablets and other plat­forms.

This could prove lu­cra­tive for ad sales. For decades, TV sta­tions sold com­mer­cials based on broad de­mo­graph­ics, like how many 18- to 49-year-old women watched “Law and Order.” Data col­lected via Next Gen TV can help them up their game, much as ca­ble providers use data from set-top boxes, and web­sites rely on brows­ing his­tory to tar­get ads.

Be­cause the new stan­dard is de­signed to be com­pat­i­ble with tablets and mo­bile phones, broad­cast­ers ex­pect to reach view­ers away from their home TV sets — and learn their habits.

“We’ll know where you are, who you are, and what you’re do­ing — just like you do now, just like everybody does now, the in­ter­net does, or Google, or a Face­book,” Sin­clair Ex­ec­u­tive Chair­man David Smith told in­vestors at the Wells Fargo Tech­nol­ogy, Me­dia & Tele­com Con­fer­ence Nov. 8. “We will have per­fect data all the time.”

Ca­ble com­pa­nies have le­gal obli­ga­tions to safe­guard sub­scriber in­for­ma­tion, such as names and ad­dresses, from unau­tho­rized dis­clo­sure. Next Gen TV should have the same rules, Con­sumers Union and other groups said in a fil­ing, and con­sumers also should be given a choice in how in­for­ma­tion about their view­ing is used.

FCC Chair­man Ajit Pai, who pro­posed al­low­ing the new broad­cast stan­dard a month af­ter be­ing nom­i­nated by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, told law­mak­ers at a Nov. 1 hear­ing that the FCC is “look­ing just at the tech­ni­cal stan­dard” and may look at pri­vacy con­cerns later. In a speech last week, Pai likened crit­ics of Next Gen TV to op­po­nents of the au­to­mo­bile more than a cen­tury ago, say­ing they dwell on chal­lenges in­stead of em­brac­ing the ben­e­fits of in­no­va­tion.

Sean Gallup / Getty Images

For broad­cast­ers, Next Gen TV rep­re­sents an ad­vance into the dig­i­tal world that for decades has been si­phon­ing view­ers away to the in­ter­net.

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