In a public notice issued on May 25, 2012 the FCC, in conjunction with the Wireline Competition Bureau, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau and the Office of General Counsel, announced that it is soliciting comments “regarding the privacy and data security practices of mobile wireless service providers with respect to customer information stored on their users’ mobile communications devices, and the application of existing privacy and security requirements to that information.”
The request comes after the FCC determined that technological advances in the past few years have given wireless service providers access to new personal information about their customers. The new data carriers now collect and store renders previous views on the responsibility of ensuring the security of private information antiquated. As stated in the FCC notice, “In recent months, it has become clear that these submissions are badly out of date. Mobile carriers are directing the collection and storage of customer-specific information on mobile devices”.
The old rules regarding data collected and security was based on the assumption that wireless carriers served only as the intermediary between mobile device manufacturers and the end-user. However, in light of advances in technology, the FCC wrote that “the devices consumers use to access mobile wireless networks have become more sophisticated and powerful, and their expanded capabilities have at times been used by wireless providers to collect information about particular customers’ use of the network — sometimes, it appears, without informing the customer”.
The FCC acknowledged that in recent months, several lawmakers have criticized wireless carriers for their use of “Carrier IQ,” a software that collects data on how and where consumers use their smartphones. While the companies said they only used the software to collect general information about the performance of their phones and networks, lawmakers suspect that Carrier IQ gives companies access to the phone numbers consumers dialed, the contents of their text messages, the websites they visited, their search queries and even their locations.
While the commission went on to note that this data can be used as a “legitimate and effective way to improve the quality of wireless services”, they also noted that “the collection, transmission, and storage of this customer-specific network information raises new privacy and security concerns”. What’s more, it remains unclear as to who receives this information and for what purposes. Namely, what are the parameters of network diagnostics and customer care.
In general, telecommunications companies are obligated to protect the personal information of their customers, and the FCC has the authority to enforce that requirement. The FCC is currently reviewing its policies and regulations to update the antiquated privacy guidelines. The commission will accept comments and feedback related to the issue for a period of 30 days. The FCC is looking into questions about the level of consumer choice over data collection, whether companies should design their software to better protect privacy, and whether there is anything the FCC can do to encourage better privacy practices.
To help with gauge consumer awareness, FCC.com wants to know how much knowledge you have with respect to the data collected by your wireless service provider.