Comcast Brings Privacy Foes Into the Fold

2/08/2004 7:00 PM Eastern

Comcast Corp. helped blunt potential criticism of this year’s version of its corporate customer privacy policy by including franchising authorities in the revision process.

Comcast annually updates its policy, incorporating best practices from around the cable industry and other businesses.

The privacy policy governs when and how consumers are contacted by the cable company, and what, if any, information is shared with related business entities such as third-party vendors.

Last year’s version drew criticism from franchising authorities, who said the policy mailed to consumers was so vaguely worded as to not be understood by consumers or enforceable by regulators.

Comcast stressed that the federal Cable Act, which contains strict privacy protections, guided the policy.

This year’s version contains no policy changes, but has been reworded to be easier to understand, both sides said.

Comcast terms it a “stylistic” change, including a Q&A format that makes the policy clearer to end-users.

“We hold customer privacy in the highest regard, as we have for 20 years,” Comcast spokeswoman Jenni Moyer said.

“So far we’re very pleased that Comcast was willing to sit down and talk,” said Libby Beaty, executive director of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisers.

NATOA formed a special committee to examine Comcast’s policy, which included David Olson, the cable director of the city of Portland, Ore., a critic of last year’s policy.

Other members included cable regulators and municipal attorneys from Comcast communities.

NATOA said it agrees the new version is more user friendly.

For example, that the policy more clearly states how a consumer can get off telemarketing lists maintained by the operator.

But the committee added in a press release on the issue that is still critical of some areas.

“…Comcast’s 2004 privacy policy is still written with too broad an interpretation of the federal law, particularly relating to the use of ‘personally identifiable information,’ ” the group said.

Some regulators still feel the standard should be that consumers are not contacted at all, unless they affirmatively request calls.

The committee is still concerned that personally identifiable information may be shared with third parties for purposes other than the provision of cable services.

“We agree to disagree” on some areas of the privacy issue, Beaty said.

The privacy policy addresses cable services only. The company has a separate policy for high-speed data customers.

Comcast started mailing the privacy statement early this month in consumer bills.

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