Congress Says The FCC Is Trying To Run Out The Clock On Wireless Location Data Scandals

from the whoo-needs-accountability dept

US wireless carriers have spent much of the last year under fire for hoovering up your location data, then selling that data to any nitwit with a nickel. More recently they've been busted even selling access to E-911 location data, which is increasingly even more accurate in tracking users than traditional GPS. We've noted repeatedly that lax ethical standards result in this data often being abused by dubious third parties, or used illegally by law enforcement or those pretending to be law enforcement.

Throughout these evolving scandals, the Trump FCC hasn't done anything to ensure the public this is being adequately looked into. There's been no critical statement about this practice issued by the FCC, and despite some early hints at a potential investigation, there's been zero public traction of any kind. Last week, some lawmakers wrote to the FCC boss Ajit Pai calling him out for doing nothing in response to the scandal:

"We write regarding our growing concern that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is failing in its duty to enforce the laws Congress passed to protect consumers’ privacy. This Committee has repeatedly urged you to act quickly to protect consumers’ privacy interests, and unfortunately you have failed to do so."

The apathy is particularly interesting given the Trump administration's frequent hyperventilation on privacy when it's Facebook or some other, large Silicon Valley giant in the crosshairs. Given the FCC hasn't done much of anything about other major scandals haunting the telecom sector (like SIM hijacking leading to cryptocurrency theft), this kind of apathy toward telecom misbehavior isn't surprising. But when it comes to the location data scandals, lawmakers suggest the FCC is trying to run out the clock so that wireless carriers can't be held accountable under FCC guidelines:

"Despite announcing that it began an investigation into the wireless carriers after being made aware of the allegations in 2018, the FCC has failed, to date, to take any action. And now time is running out since the statute of limitations gives the FCC one year to act.

We write regarding our growing concern that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is failing in its duty to enforce the laws Congress passed to protect consumers’ privacy. This Committee has repeatedly urged you to act quickly to protect consumers’ privacy interests, and unfortunately you have failed to do so."

While wireless carriers have insisted they've stopped collecting and selling this data, nobody has bothered to actually independently confirm that. Nobody's really been able to answer what happens to the troves of location data these companies have been collecting for the better part of the last decade, either. Have carriers really stopped monetizing your every waking movement? Are they still monetizing a decade's worth of your daily habits? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Like so many tech policy issues (net neutrality comes quickly to mind), this will be idiotically framed as a "he said, she said" partisan issue by lawmakers and many media outlets, resulting in the Republican FCC only doubling down on what they'll insist is "unfair partisan criticism." But that doesn't really address the fact that we're doing little to nothing about one of the biggest privacy scandals in the last decade. Nor does it really speak to the fact that when it comes to consumer privacy, the telecom sector is every bit as terrible as giants like Facebook -- which now enjoy a myopic level of consternation in the DC policy space to the exclusion of all else.

Filed Under: ajit pai, fcc, location data, privacy


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2019 @ 6:33am

    The FCC should be doing something about it but every state has the authority to do it too.

    Selling the data illegally was still fraud and deceptive business practices concurrently illegal under state law. It is taking at least 51 governments to let them get away with it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2019 @ 1:19pm

      Re:

      I wish this was pointed out more often -- one thing this FCC has done is to throw sunlight on the relationships local and state agencies have with telcos.

      If all the attorneys general started suits over this, it might just make the telcos realize they were better off with a single, functioning FCC with clear guidelines.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 14 Nov 2019 @ 6:41am

    A do nothing Congress calling out a do nothing agency for not doing their job.

    Ahh the irony...sad part is they're right.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 14 Nov 2019 @ 7:58am

      Re:

      There's a tendency here for folks to paint "politicians" or "Congress" as if they're just one guy.

      But did you know there are actually 535 completely different people in Congress? It's true!

      There are many reasons the current Congress hasn't gotten much done, the chief of which is that at present, we have a divided government; the House and the Senate are controlled by different parties. (Though given how little Congress accomplished even when both houses were controlled by the same party as the President, it's probably safe to conclude that one party has some particular problems with governance.)

      If you have a particular objection to behavior by any of the eleven signatories on this letter, feel free to share it. But don't talk about "Congress" like it's just one guy.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2019 @ 8:11am

        there are actually 535 completely different people in Congress?

        Re: "But did you know there are actually 535 completely different people in Congress? It's true!"

        Not really. There are only two political parties in Congress. Both are in the back pockets of the same well-heeled corporations. The trained seals who are individual congresscritters must toe the party line.

        As such, this statement is effectively meaningless.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2019 @ 10:44am

          Re: there are actually 535 completely different people in Congre

          Yeah - there are no independents in congress are there ...

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 14 Nov 2019 @ 7:24am

    Pot Meet Kettle.

    Screaming about breaking up Facebook b/c they were mad their weekend pics from the KKK meeting were taken down & they stole our data... they think...maybe, kinda, sorta....

    Actual harm, but hey corporations are making money & we like these corporations they pay us better than Tech.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2019 @ 7:26am

    lax ethical standards

    " We've noted repeatedly that lax ethical standards... "

    ~

    well OK, who is responsible for enforcing 'ethical standards' in the communications industry?

    who enforces ethical standards in the FCC, the U.S. Presidency, the U.S. Congress, or the California Sate legislature?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 14 Nov 2019 @ 7:54am

      Re: lax ethical standards

      No one. Remember this from 2015:

      "...Dozens of Dartmouth College students are suspended following accusations they were cheating, ironically, in an ethics class ..."

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2019 @ 8:47am

        Re: Re: lax ethical standards

        The cheaters who got caught would not be the ones now working for the telcos. Nor the FCC presumably, because that's just practice for working for a telco.

        But, yeah, an Ars article today supports your answer of "no one". The FCC says it's not their job to police this stuff, it's the FTC's, and the FCC never refers any complaints to them. And it's not clear the FTC has any authority over telcos (the telcos claim they don't).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Coyne Tibbets (profile), 14 Nov 2019 @ 4:10pm

          Re: Re: Re: lax ethical standards

          Actually, I am fine with them not being regulated by the FCC. I think we should give them what they want.

          For example, the FTC should regulate their billing practices, and net neutrality. SEC should regulate their monopolist behavior. Department of Agriculture should regulate them in rural areas, and HUD in urban areas. NRC could regulate their radio waves. DOE could regulate their content. BIA could regulate their activities on reservations. BLM could regulate their use of poles.

          Heck I bet if we worked at it, we could get 20 different Federal departments regulating these companies, with lots of contradictory regulations, just like they wanted.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2019 @ 1:31pm

      Re: lax ethical standards

      Ethics in business?
      You're joking , right?

      The lowly peon employees of government contractors are annually made to sign documents proclaiming their adherence to the ethical standards of the corporation and to divulge any and all conflicts of interest, as if these are the employees most likely to engage in such activity.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2019 @ 7:28am

    Like so many tech policy issues (net neutrality comes quickly to mind), this will be idiotically framed as a "he said, she said" partisan issue by lawmakers and many media outlets, resulting in the Republican FCC only doubling down on what they'll insist is "unfair partisan criticism."

    Is there any reason to think that this isn't just partisan criticism? By that I mean, every signer of the letter to the FCC is a Democrat. Do these Congresspersons actually care about the issue, or are they just taking the opportunity to take a shot at a Republican FCC?

    (For the record, this question is not meant to be anti-Democrat or pro-Republican. I think just about every politician is useless, so I'm very cynical about their motives, regardless of their party.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      James Burkhardt (profile), 14 Nov 2019 @ 9:23am

      Re:

      Voting records indicate Anna Eschoo (my Congresswoman) votes in favor of consumer privacy. Past statements also indicate concern over regulators turning a blind eye to the industries they should regulate. Voting records and consistency in message are often seen as the way to judge the motive of politicians. (the rest aren't my representatives, so I am less familiar with their work.)

      Their are a number of issues with your framing, which is to suggest you aren't making this partisan while ignoring the substance of the claims to question the motives of the politicians, which is a classic partisan game. When you make an accusation of partisanship to dismiss a claim, there is an inherent assertion that the substance is actually invalid. When techdirt argues about partisan framing, they are highlighting that the partisan framing is intended to dismiss the claims rather than address the substance.

      Its not wrong to mistrust motives. But the issue with unauthentic motives is when bad motives generate outcomes that negatively impacts the consumer/voter. Particularly when those outcomes benefit the politician outside of voter goodwill.

      Rep. Eschoo might be cynically voting pro-consumer-privacy to maintain voter happiness and her own position. But in so far as this letter is concerned, I don't see her pushing an anti consumer position, and isn't pushing lies or going into business for herself.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2019 @ 10:39am

        Re: Re:

        I'm not dismissing the claim - the FCC is failing to act and the Committee is right to call them out on it. I should have specified that in my previous comment.

        In this case, I'm wondering if they're doing the right thing for the wrong reason.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2019 @ 10:44am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Also, your information on Congresswoman Eshoo suggests that she isn't being partisan, so that's encouraging. Thanks for that.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2019 @ 9:29am

      Re:

      Their motives are clear... they do whatever the corporation paying them the most money tells them to do.

      See, simple no questioning their motives, now questioning who is paying them and what their long game is would be things to be cynical about...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 14 Nov 2019 @ 1:34pm

      Re:

      In the screwed up world of today, what criticism would not be partisan?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    sunny heer (profile), 14 Nov 2019 @ 9:07pm

    Happy New Year HD Wallpaper

    Quality is better than quantity. Amazing write-up!”
    https://www.trendslr.com/happy-new-year-2020-wishes-for-friends-and-family.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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