New FCC Commissioner: Hey, Maybe Somebody In Government Could Address These Wireless Location Data Scandals?

from the ill-communication dept

We’ve noted a few times now that while Facebook gets a lot of justified heat for its privacy scandals, the stuff going on in the cellular data and app market in regards to location data makes many of Facebook’s privacy issues seem like a grade-school picnic. That’s something that was pretty well highlighted by the recent Securus and LocationSmart scandals, which showcased perfectly how cellular carriers and location data brokers routinely buy and sell your daily travel habits with only a fleeting effort to ensure all of the subsequent buyers and sellers of that data adhere to basic privacy and security standards.

That was again exemplified by reports on how this data often winds up in the hands of bounty hunters, and can often include 911 location data that’s supposed to be protected by law.

Throughout all of this, the Ajit Pai FCC has largely been mute and feckless. In large part because taking action would require actually standing up to the industry’s biggest wireless carriers, something that’s indisputably not in Pai’s wheelhouse. New FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks apparently has no such reservations, and in an editorial in the New York Times doesn’t tread gently, noting the scale at which this data can be (and is) abused for a wide variety of reasons:

“The misuse of this data is downright dangerous. The harms fall disproportionately upon people of color. According to the Pew Research Center, people of color rely more heavily on smartphones for internet access, so they create more of this data, which makes them more vulnerable to tracking. Researchers also know that location data can be used to target them with misinformation or voter suppression tactics. It can also lead to assumptions about a person?s race or income level, assumptions that can feed into discriminatory automated decision making.”

Starks also suggests that, perhaps, somebody at the FCC and government might actually want to do something about it:

“The F.C.C. says it is investigating. But nearly a year after the news first broke, the commission has yet to issue an enforcement action or fine those responsible. This passage of time is significant, as the agency usually has only one year to bring action to hold any wrongdoers accountable before the statute of limitations runs out. Some may argue that the F.C.C.?s authority to take action against wireless carriers for this activity has gotten weaker in recent years, with the repeal of consumer-focused privacy and net neutrality rules during the current administration. But I believe that the commission still has ample authority to address these egregious pay-to-track practices.”

As it stands now, when you sign your lengthy, unread privacy and acceptable use policy with your wireless carrier, that agreement is interpreted by a long line of companies (as many as 70!) to mean you’ve agreed to have your daily location habits collected, monitored and sold. And while many of these carriers now say they’ve stopped the practice in the wake of press coverage of these scandals, history suggests that perhaps you shouldn’t trust the statements of giant wireless carriers at face value.

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Comments on “New FCC Commissioner: Hey, Maybe Somebody In Government Could Address These Wireless Location Data Scandals?”

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Rocky says:

Re: Re:

Uhm, do you have a point?

If you are hunted by a bounty hunter you have almost certainly done something stupid for that to happen, and people tend to laugh at stupid people.

But perhaps you missed the point of the article, which is that the bounty hunter shouldn’t have access to the location data from the operators in the first place.

Which makes me laugh at you.

Rocky says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

And you came to that conclusion how?

If a bounty hunter is hunting you even though you haven’t done anything wrong someone made an error somewhere or someone stole your identity and did something stupid. That doesn’t make you guilty, does it (even though it’ll make your life suck for a while)?

That’s way I said almost certainly but I guess you missed that.

Which is entirely beside the point that the bounty hunter shouldn’t have access to your location data anyway.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

That literally doesn’t follow from reading the article.

The point being made is carriers are retaining people’s historical and real-time location data and selling it to basically anyone who wants it. The bounty hunter was just an example.

Further, the customers had no choice in the matter. You can’t tell your carrier to stop collecting and selling your location data, so how you managed to come up with "they brought it on themselves" is perplexing.

And NO ONE is laughing at them. The entire tone of the article is one of horror and caution.

It’s almost like you don’t actually care what was written, just so long as you can lie and get a dig in at TD.

Anonymous Coward says:

We’ve noted a few times now that while Facebook gets a lot of justified heat for its privacy scandals, the stuff going on in the cellular data and app market in regards to location data makes many of Facebook’s privacy issues seem like a grade-school picnic.

Is one of the requirements of being a poster on this site that you always take the opportunity to attempt to downplay the misdeeds of Surveillance Valley corporations when other companies get caught doing fucked up things?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

No. Nor is he downplaying anything.

Murdering one person is, subjectively, not as bad as murdering a few thousand but we consider both to be worthy of putting a stop to.

But if you have to prioritize who to go after first, are you going to after the guy killing people one at a time, or the guy killing thousands at a time?

A similar analogy applies here. Data collected by Facebook and the like is certainly bad, but they aren’t tracking your position in real-time and selling it to the highest public bidder. Both should be stopped but one gives away your real world position in real-time which is an invasion of privacy on orders of magnitude larger than the other that doesn’t.

Basically, one gives a bad person your constant exact coordinates to come and do you permanent physical harm with nothing more than some cash exchanging hands, while the other can be used to profile you and MAYBE figure out your general geographic location or place of residence, but not your real-time position as you are walking down the street.

ECA (profile) says:

Privacy is fun.

Ever goto a ballot box, and they look at the form, and write a number in the ledger??

Iv tried to tell persons about having an automated, computer controlled house with everything listening to you…
Yelling GOOGLE turn off lights…Means that, THAT computer is listening to you..ALL THE TIME..

What would it take to send a remote, to your phone and have it listen and send everything TO WIFI, to another person/agency/CORP??

LG made a TV with a SMART system in it, and a camera…And it connected to the net and sent recorded data to LG..Nice lawsuit.

A barbie was made, that connected to ANY wifi.. and recorded EVERYTHING in the house, QUOTE " to help us do better with voice controls"… LAWSUIT..

Some problems with this, is there is little money in it, unless you can prove INVASION of privacy.. And probably wont get much money..

How paranoid do you want to be?? How easy would it be to install a Microphone, to use remotely, in a modem or router??
NOT A PROBLEM.. They even have security systems for HOME, that let you call in to the system, AND LISTEN AND WATCH VIDEO.

For all those conspiracies, about OLD TV being able to WATCH what you do in your home…
‘they’re hereeee’ ..
i dont need my TV to watch me, I dont need a Builtin computer in my SMART TV…
I want to open the Roku box and check for Microphones/cameras.

Ever get a device that would not want to work, until you connected it to the net?? SHOOT IT..

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