By Tom Rutledge, Charter Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
In recent weeks, people have found themselves shocked by who knows what about them—and how little they knew about how that information was being used. Today’s technology allows us to pay bills, sign up for healthcare, and even find a date without ever getting off the couch. Despite our reliance on websites and social media, the truth is, most people don’t know that when they engage in these activities online, many Internet companies are collecting a significant amount of information about them and selling it to others for advertising, research and even voter persuasion purposes. As the saying goes, if you can’t tell what the website or app is selling, it’s selling you.
In addition, people are increasingly, and rightfully, concerned about their personal data being stolen from the companies that have access to it. According to data collected for NTIA by the US Census Bureau, nearly half of Internet users in the US refrained from online activities due to privacy and security concerns. Identity theft was the top concern, cited by 63 percent of respondents, followed by financial fraud, noted by 45 percent.
Tomorrow, Congress will begin important hearings to examine who is collecting what, how that data is shared and sold, and how best to protect and secure personal data when much of our lives are increasingly taking place online. As a company with over 95,000 employees that has the privilege of providing Internet service to 22.5 million homes across 41 states, we at Charter have an important stake in this conversation.
Charter believes individuals deserve to know that no matter where they go online or how they interact with online services, they will have the same protections. Different policies leading to inconsistent protections sow confusion and erode consumer confidence in their interactions online, threatening the Internet’s future as an engine of economic growth. And as an Internet Service Provider, that’s bad for business. So we are urging Congress to pass a uniform law that provides greater privacy and data security protections and applies the same standard to everybody in the Internet ecosystem, including us.
Moreover, we believe this standard needs to not only apply to everyone, it needs to be strong. Internet users should have “opt-in” protections, meaning all entities must receive opt-in consent to collect and share their data for purposes other than the actual service they engaged in. Additionally all online entities must be transparent about their information collection and sharing practices by providing concise, easy-to-find, understandable privacy notices to consumers. Again, these consumer protections only work if all members of the ecosystem – like social media apps, web browsers, broadband providers, online advertisers and data brokers – participate.
Recent revelations have led to a long-overdue public conversation about what happens to our data online and the vulnerabilities that could develop. Charter is ready to work with Members of Congress, industry partners, consumer groups and other stakeholders to pass a law that makes people feel more safe and confident taking advantage of all that the Internet has to offer.