Jessica Rosenworcel over cell tower background

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FCC probes 15 leading mobile carriers about location data in wake of abortion ruling

'The highly sensitive nature of this data ... is of utmost importance to consumer safety and privacy.'

 

Jacob Seitz

Tech

Posted on Jul 20, 2022

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is investigating how the top 15 mobile carriers in the U.S. collect, retain, and safeguard user geolocation data, according to a press release.

In separate letters to each mobile provider, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel requested information from carriers on their data collection and privacy measures. The letters said that mobile internet service providers are “uniquely situated” to collect data from users, including “subscriber’s actual identity and personal characteristics, geolocation data, app usage, and web browsing data and habits.”

The letters seek specifics on the ways companies collect data, how they store it and for how long, and each company’s policy for sharing data with third parties, including a dedicated question about sharing data with law enforcement. 

The probe comes at a time when internet rights groups and congressional Democrats are raising concerns over location data after the Dobbs v. Jackson Supreme Court ruling, which overturned Roe v. Wade, stripping away the constitutional right to abortion that had been in place for 50 years. Democrats are worried that law enforcement agencies in states that have criminalized abortion could seek geolocation data from mobile carriers and tech companies through geofence warrants, making it possible for police to question or arrest people who were at or near abortion clinics.

“The highly sensitive nature of this data—especially when location data is combined with other types of data—and the ways in which this data is stored and shared with third parties is of utmost importance to consumer safety and privacy,” Rosenworcel said in the letters.

Mobile providers have until Aug. 3 to reply to the letters.

In a tweet, Rosenworcel emphasized the importance of protecting consumer location data.

“Our phones know our location at any given moment,” she wrote. “This geolocation data is especially sensitive. It’s a record of where we’ve been and who we are. It’s why the FCC took action today to probe the data privacy practices of mobile carriers.”

This is the latest FCC probe into mobile carriers, which reiterated that it has been looking into ways to “protect consumers’ location-based data,” according to the release.

In February 2020, the FCC cracked down on companies for monetizing consumer location data and fined the four largest wireless carriers more than $200 million for selling customer information without taking “reasonable measures to protect against unauthorized access to that information.”


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*First Published: Jul 20, 2022, 2:12 pm CDT