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FCC commissioner warns of location data threats

Jacob Yothment

Published

Little did we know, every move we make is being sold for hundreds of dollars.

Location Data

FCC commissioner Geoffrey Starks wrote in an op-ed piece for the New York Times that wireless companies sell users’ location data, and that the FCC should stop them. 

Who is using our location data?

Last year, the New York Times broke a story about a sheriff using location data to monitor the locations of people in his jurisdiction.  Whether or not he had the best intentions, his methods were, at best, against FCC regulations and at worst, immoral.

Although the sheriff was reprimanded for his actions, the question still looms, “Who has access to our locations, and how are they getting it?”

As Starks wrote, even bounty hunters have been using location data to find and locate their targets. “A bounty hunter was able to pay to track a user’s location on a map accurate to within a few feet,” Starks writes.

How are they getting it?

Location data transactionOur cellphone service providers take location data directly from our phones throughout the day so that we can be contacted. That location data is only supposed to be divulged by our service provider for emergency situations. 

We can opt to allow apps like GrubHub or Waze to use our location in order to use their services, but they have to get permission. They also aren’t allowed to sell our personal location data.

Unlike an app, we can’t opt out of allowing our service provider to have access to our location data. 

This is an FCC issue

The FCC buildingMake no mistake, it is the FCC’s responsibility to handle this problem.

As Starks wrote, “It is unquestionably the FCC’s job to protect consumers and address risks to public safety. Our location information isn’t supposed to be used without our knowledge and consent and no chain of handoffs or contracts can eliminate the wireless company’s obligations.”

The FCC has been investigating this issue, but they have not taken action.

“The FCC must use its authority to protect consumers and promote public safety, and act swiftly and decisively to stop illegal and dangerous pay-to-track practices once and for all,” Starks writes.

Starks went on to say that as a commissioner, he can call for action on this problem. However, he can only do so if the FCC chairman first adds the issue to the FCC’s agenda. 

What happens next?

Starks took the right step by writing the piece for the New York Times. His story has only been online for two days, but it already been shared thousands of times across social media. Only time will tell as to how the FCC will respond to the article and the public outcry.

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