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Protecting Privacy Online

COVID-19 and the Importance of Protecting Consumer Privacy

May 27, 2020

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By Catherine Bohigian, Executive Vice President, Government Affairs

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many Americans feeling uncertain how to balance the need to protect their digital privacy with the need to share individual health information to fight the virus. A recent Washington Post–University of Maryland poll found 59% of smartphone users would “be comfortable” using a coronavirus-tracking app to anonymously alert others if they tested positive for COVID-19, but only 43% trust tech companies with that sensitive information. Individuals who want to take steps to protect themselves and others during this unprecedented health emergency should be able to do so and know their personal privacy is protected.

One of our most important responsibilities as a connectivity provider is protecting our customers’ online privacy, which is why Charter has long called for a strong federal framework to protect consumers’ privacy online. We value and rely on our customers’ trust and loyalty, and we want them to be confident that their personal data is protected. It is good for our customers and good for our business.

Recently, we have seen Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle introduce privacy proposals to regulate the collection of personal health data for COVID-19 tracing and tracking. Senate Commerce Chairman Roger Wicker introduced the Consumer Data Protection Act and Senators Blumenthal and Warner and Representatives Eshoo, Schakowsky and DelBene introduced the Public Health Emergency Privacy Act.

While these proposals differ in certain respects, each includes meaningful elements in line with Charter’s Privacy Framework and should be recognized as important steps forward. Both proposals use an opt-in approach, something Charter has consistently supported because it gives consumers choice and control in how their data is collected, shared, and used. The proposals also both apply consistently across the entire online ecosystem, so consumers will not have to wonder which protections apply to which online application or service they are using.

The Consumer Data Protection Act also includes two other elements Charter believes are critical to a successful privacy framework: federal preemption, which is a key element to a strong and uniform national standard; and strong enforcement provisions that will protect consumers and prevent frivolous lawsuits.  

We are hopeful that Congress will come together to act, both in moving forward in a bipartisan, consensus way on these COVID-19-focused privacy proposals, but also more broadly to take action on a comprehensive, uniform, national framework that protects consumers’ privacy online and offers certainty in these unprecedented times and for years to come.