ReThink: Verizon fined by FCC – Are privacy laws too severe?
By Thomas Flannigan
Verizon has been fined $1.35 million by the FCC this week for violating privacy laws. While this penalty is barely a drop in the ocean for the US operator, this is part of a wider problem facing not just operators, publishers, and content providers, but also the technology vendors that work with them.
The FCC deemed that Verizon’s ad targeting technology, or “supercookies”, had infringed its Open Internet Transparency Rule, as Verizon had been collecting customers’ data and sharing this with third parties without the consent of users, and with no option to opt out. Following the small fine, Verizon has now agreed to a three year FCC plan in which it is required to notify its customers about ad programs, and gain full consent before sharing this data with outside companies.
Data collected through methods such as Verizon’s ad targeting technology provides invaluable information about customer behavior which can be exploited for targeted advertising, as well as increasing total viewing through targeted content recommendations. In order to achieve this, operators will use one of the various analytics packages to provide broader customer insights than are available at present, from a combination of traditional panels and set top box return path data.
However, the issues here are that these methods of collecting personal data relate to individual users, not just households as a whole – this data is more specific, such as physical movements and daily routines, as well as viewing and browsing habits.
While the class-action law suits generally involve the big guns of the industry, behind closed doors it also affects the vendors of recommendation and personalization software, and one of those vendors is US company IRIS.TV, which Faultline spoke to this week.
IRIS.TV’s software works by collecting and analyzing video metadata, including titles, description, tags, category, and keywords, to determine the similarity of content. This is then paired with anonymously collected user behavior data (videos consumed, interactivity, geographic location, device type) to build a demographic consumption profile. It claims a 54% boost for viewing on web and mobile devices for its customers.
IRIS.TV reiterates that its core focus is user privacy, and therefore spoke a lot about the legal and privacy barriers faced in the recommendation and personalization game, particularly in the US and UK – IRIS.TV described UK regulations as “draconian”. While not much can be done about this, there is some small room for maneuver in anonymizing data, by replacing user names by identifiers or, if this is still in violation of the rulebook, accumulating users into small target groups – decreasing the likelihood of someone obtaining user identities if there was ever a data privacy leak.
IRIS.TV says its technology differs from rivals because it’s cloud-based, and claims it is highly secure, and also suggested some competitors were unable to guarantee security of user data – but did not specify just how it makes its cloud based software more secure than others….