Comcast Tweaking Privacy Policy

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Comcast Corp.'s privacy policy — criticized by some local franchising authorities as vaguely worded and unenforceable — will be revised next January, officials said last week.

Gerard J. Lewis Jr., Comcast's senior counsel and chief privacy officer, stressed the changes are part of an annual review. Alterations are frequently made based on the marketplace and changes in technology, he said.

Lewis's job is to look at state-of-the-art policies each year.

"We always look at good and creditable suggestions" for improving the policy, he added, noting that the cable industry is subject to some of the strictest privacy language in the country, contained in the federal Cable Act.

A regional Comcast executive had recently notified members of the Mount Hood (Ore.) Cable Regulatory Commission of Comcast's plans to revise the privacy statement. That commission, based in Portland, Ore., was most vocal among critics of the policy.

Commission members believe the current policy, mailed to consumers beginning in May, might allow Comcast to use subscribers' personally identifiable information for business activities beyond the scope of the delivery of cable and Internet services.

David Olson, director of the Portland Office of Cable Communications and Franchise Management, was so concerned that he was privately polling fellow regulators at the recent National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors meeting in Denver. He sought supporters in the event of litigation on the issue.

Olson said regulators are pleased to see movement by Comcast.

When regulators first expressed concern about the policy, Comcast sent an 11-page letter defending its current policy and indicating there would be no changes. The policy applies to the business relationship between the company and all of its 21 million U.S. customers.

Regulators will monitor the company during the four months before the new policy is drafted, to make sure the company lives up to promises of customer privacy, Olson said.

Also, local authorities will research language and authorities for a local privacy policy that might be used as a fall-back position, should the new Comcast privacy statement fail to address issues of local concern, he said.

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