Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel has ordered wireless carriers to explain what geolocation data they collect from customers and how they use it. The Rosenworcel probe could be the first step towards stronger action – but the agency’s authority in this area is in jeopardy because Congress is debating a privacy law that could anticipate prevents the FCC from regulating the privacy practices of carriers.
Rosenworcel sent letters of inquiry “to the top 15 wireless carriers” on Tuesday, according to the FCC announced. In the Chairmen’s letters, airlines were “asked about their policies regarding geolocation data, e.g. B. how long geolocation data is retained and why and what current safeguards are in place to protect this sensitive information,” the FCC said.
The letters also “review carriers about their procedures for sharing subscriber geolocation data with law enforcement agencies and other third-party data sharing agreements. Finally, the letters ask if and how consumers will be notified when their geolocation information is shared with third parties,” FCC said.
“Mobile internet service providers are uniquely able to collect a wealth of data about their own subscribers, including the subscriber’s actual identity and personal characteristics, geolocation data, app usage, and web browsing data and habits,” it said in the letters. Under US communications lawcarriers are prohibited from using or disclosing private information except in certain circumstances.
Rosenworcel asked network operators to answer the questions by August 3. The recipients of the letter included the three major network operators AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon; cable companies Comcast and Charter, which resell cellular services; Mobile operators Consumer Cellular, C-Spire, Dish, Google, H2O Wireless, Lycamobile, Mint Mobile, Red Pocket and US Cellular; and Best Buy Health, which operates the medically-focused mobile service Lively.
The FCC has authority over phone privacy…for now
The FCC’s letters noted that it proposed fines totaling $208 million in February 2020 after AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon were caught “denying access to their customers’ location information.” sell without taking adequate measures to protect against unauthorized access to that information.” Although the practice is believed to have ended, this week’s FCC letters say there is still cause for concern about the data collected by carriers data gives:
These network operators have voluntarily decided to stop selling real-time location information to location aggregation services. However, last year a Federal Trade Commission report surveying ISPs, which represent 98 percent of the mobile internet market, found that ISPs collect more data than is needed to provide services and more data than consumers expect.
The proposed $208 million fines appear to be pending, but the FCC said it “ensured that these carriers no longer monetize their customers’ real-time location in this way, and the agency is continuing its investigation into these practices.” away.”
The FCC investigation is important “given the long history of abuse by carriers who sell this type of detailed and hyper-accurate information to law enforcement, bounty hunters, and even stalkers.” said Harold Feld, senior vice president of consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge. Cellular operators “have unique access to highly accurate geolocation information — known as A-GPS — designed to enable 911 responders to locate a caller with pinpoint accuracy” and “have access to other information that can be combined with geolocation to provide.” create a detailed picture of a person’s activities far beyond what applications on the mobile phone can provide,” Feld said.
Although the FCC, under former Chairman Ajit Pai, relinquished its Title II authority over broadband, Feld noted that the agency still has significant authority over telephone services. “The FCC has specialized powers to compel airlines to respond,” Feld wrote. “She has the power to impose transparency requirements to expose when law enforcement abuses legal process to obtain deeply personal phone information. It has the power to request specific data minimization and privacy commitments where necessary. The FCC has exercised that authority in the past creating new rules in response to revelations that stalkers had access to carrier information and should not hesitate to use its regulatory powers again if necessary.”
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