“I’m very vocal and very committed to ensuring every day that the enforcement bureau focuses on consumer protection,” LeBlanc told AdExchanger. “It’s not an easy job.”
Whether he’ll still have that job come January is unlikely. Until then, he’s staying busy.
At any given time, the FCC has around 500 active cases. Every month, roughly 40 new cases come in the door and another 40 are adjudicated or settled. LeBlanc is usually working on at least 15 cases a day, from different states and in different stages of finalization. LeBlanc also oversees 24 field offices across the country.
AdExchanger caught up with LeBlanc in Washington, DC, to talk tech, Trump, tracking and telcos.
AdExchanger: An entity like Verizon is a telco, a content provider and now an ad tech aspirant. Platform companies fall under a lot of regulatory umbrellas. Who do they answer to?
TRAVIS LEBLANC: My response will not be particular to Verizon, but we’re seeing a lot of convergence of industries with the adoption of the internet. For many people, a traditional phone company is also their cable provider, television provider, paid-TV services provider, their internet service provider (ISP), maybe even their mobile phone provider.
When you have the convergence of historically regulated industries, there’s going to be some regulatory convergence as well. The good thing about having a federal system in the United States is that almost all of our companies are used to dealing with both federal and state governments.
There are a number of government actors, at both the federal and state levels, that may have jurisdiction over an entity. What’s important is that we have some amount of harmonization across the regulatory spectrum, so that the industry is not getting conflicting guidance from agencies.
What does Trump’s presidency mean for the FCC’s recently passed privacy rules?
I can’t answer that. The rules are on the books. They were published in the Federal Register [in early December]. It will be up to the next commission or Congress to determine whether they should be changed.
What are people misunderstanding about the FCC’s focus on ISPs as opposed to edge providers like Google? The FCC doesn’t have jurisdiction, but that doesn’t mean the edge providers don’t have access to a lot of user information.
The majority of the commission took the view that the position of ISPs in the ecosystem is different enough from edge providers to warrant having specific rules on the books governing the collection, use, sharing and notice around data.
Walmart knows what I do when I visit Walmart’s website, but when I’m on CNN’s website, Walmart probably doesn’t know. But my ISP sees all of that. And if it’s a mobile provider, they have access to my location, pretty much 24/7, if you assume that these are devices we have on us at all times.
While the quantity of the data may be different, the access that an ISP has is fundamentally different from that of an edge provider.
You’ve said in the past that “privacy and innovation are not incompatible.” Can you expand on that?
Oftentimes, people think that the two have to be at odds, but it’s a false choice to say that you can either have innovation or you can have privacy. You can have both.
Privacy by design means that the fundamental principles of privacy protection are already built into the innovation. The mobile ecosystem, the internet, has developed to show that there are ways to notify consumers, to allow them to make choices about the data they share and the retention of that data. We’ve seen a thriving digital ecosystem evolve from that.
Earlier this year we did a case that shows we pay attention to that area, the settlement with Verizon in March over the use of its so-called supercookies. We were clearly aware that Verizon wanted to use these unique identifier headers (UIDH) to track their users’ traffic. They did this initially without informing any user that they were doing it. Unlike a normal cookie which you can delete, the UIDH is actually in the header. You can’t delete it. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even recognize it was there.
We entered a settlement with them that required they notify their users of the UIDH program and to make the program opt-in for sharing outside of Verizon. When we approach privacy protection, so often the issue we’re dealing with is about notice and choice. At the end of the day, we want to empower the consumer to make a decision about their personal data.
You’ve occupied the chief enforcer seat at the FCC for three years. Do you get to occupy it in the new administration?
The FCC is an independent agency. I serve at the pleasure of the Commission, but I’m appointed by the chairman. I was appointed by Chairman Wheeler. I can serve with relative certainty for so long as Chairman Wheeler is the chairman of the FCC. But after that, all bets are off.