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AT&T and Comcast say they weren’t invading your privacy in the first place

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Bill Hinton | Getty Images

To skeptical web users, two votes on Capitol Hill to scrap the FCC's online privacy rules amount to a major handoff of consumers' most sensitive personal information to the likes of AT&T, Comcast, Charter and Verizon.

To those internet providers, however, the groundswell of criticism they're facing on social media this week is entirely the stuff of hyperbole.

Two companies, Comcast* and AT&T, each tried on Friday to mount a defense of their intense lobbying campaign to undo the FCC's rules, which would have required the industry to seek customers' permission before collecting consumers' web browsing history and selling that to third parties, like advertisers. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the reversal into law in the coming days.

In a blog post, Gerard Lewis, the chief privacy officer for Comcast, stressed on Friday: "We do not sell our broadband customers' individual web browsing history. We did not do it before the FCC's rules were adopted, and we have no plans to do so."

In making that commitment, however, Comcast slammed the "misleading talk" that suggested it sought to "sell sensitive customer data without customers' knowledge or consent." Instead, Lewis noted, Comcast already promised not to share information, like children's data, without obtaining permission.

Meanwhile, AT&T struck a more defiant tone. It called the vote in the House and Senate "commendable ... to reverse the FCC's off-course privacy rules" in its own Friday blog.

Bob Quinn, the wireless giant's senior executive vice president, highlighted that the agency's rules never went into effect — while AT&T's privacy practices haven't changed. In other words, he wrote, "The Congressional action had zero effect on the privacy protections afforded to consumers."

Slamming opponents for ignoring "facts," Quinn then took aim at Silicon Valley, as tech companies weren't covered by the FCC's rules. "If the government believes that location data is sensitive and requires more explicit consumer disclosures and permissions, then those protections should apply to all players that have access to location data, whether an ISP or edge player or search engine," he wrote.

By Tony Romm, Re/code.net.

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