Public Knowledge Applauds FCC for Investigating Mobile Carrier Data Practices

The FCC published responses from the nation's 15 top mobile carriers following a request for information about their data privacy policies. And then it launched an investigation.

Today, Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenrocel publicly shared the responses from the nation’s 15 top mobile carriers following a request for information about their data retention and data privacy policies. The agency also announced that its Enforcement Bureau would launch an investigation into mobile carriers’ compliance with FCC rules that require carriers to fully disclose to consumers how they are using and sharing geolocation data.

The agency previously sent letters asking providers to share information about geolocation data policies, including how long geolocation data is retained and why and what the current safeguards are to protect this sensitive information. The letters also probed providers about their processes for sharing subscriber geolocation data with law enforcement and other third parties, and how the carriers combine geolocation data with other data to which they have unique access. Finally, the letters asked if and how consumers are notified when their geolocation data is shared with third parties. Carriers were given until August 3 to respond to the inquiry.

Public Knowledge commends the FCC for taking action to investigate carrier practices, especially in light of this recent story in the Washington Post underscoring how difficult carriers may make it for consumers to opt out of data collection or understand the full extent of the data carriers collect and use for a wide variety of purposes unrelated to providing service. We also applaud the FCC for making these responses public, which will make it easier for customers to compare carrier privacy practices and invoke their rights as subscribers. Public Knowledge urges the FCC to do more to create real standards for the industry that will genuinely protect customer privacy.

The following can be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge:

“As Chairwoman Rosenworcel herself has repeatedly said, Americans should not have to allow phone companies to track their every move as the price of carrying a phone. Most importantly, the FCC has a responsibility to make sure that carrier privacy protection practices continue to evolve with the technology.

”These letters show that, despite the constant invocation of carriers of ‘industry standards’ and ‘best practices,’ carrier geolocation data practices are all over the map. The only ‘industry standard’ appears to be that there is no standard at all for how long carriers retain data, how they protect it, or how hard they make it for their customers to invoke their rights. 

“The FCC has said it will continue to investigate whether carrier practices have broken any laws. But the FCC can and should do more. Right now, customers must negotiate a confusing maze of carrier practices and notifications. The FCC is more than an enforcer; it is a regulator. The FCC should set new rules of the road so that subscribers have the privacy we need and deserve.”

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