Charter: Third Parties Don't Get Subs' Geolocation Info, Period

Charter Communications
(Image credit: Charter Communications)

Charter's Spectrum Mobile service only uses geolocation information to optimize its service and does not sell to or share it with third parties, including advertisers, the company has told the FCC.

That was in a letter in response to a probe launched by FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel of the top mobile broadband providers, including Charter, about their data collection practices.

Also: GOP Seeks Carrier Info on Location Data

Charter told Rosenworcel that the company "(1) Provides customers with detailed information about our privacy practices, including how we collect, use, and protect geolocation data; (2) Explicitly requests permission to collect customer geolocation information, and allows customers to opt out or change their location sharing preferences at any time; (3) Restricts the collection of geolocation information, when enabled, to what is necessary to provide and optimize service; and (4) Does not share or sell customer geolocation information with third parties for any purpose, including advertising."

Spectrum Mobile is a mobile network virtual operator (MVNO) that Charter runs in partnership with wireless carrier Verizon.

What location information it does collect it uses to "to analyze data utilization and traffic patterns, troubleshoot service issues and manage and optimize our network performance," and only retains it as long as it is needed for those purposes.

In letters to more than a dozen top carriers last month, Rosenworcel noted that the nation’s largest carriers had pledged back in 2020 to end the sale of real-time location data to aggregation services, after the FCC fined them more than $200 million for not taking appropriate steps to protect that data. But a subsequent (2021) Federal Trade Commission report found that ISPs continued to collect more data than was necessary “to provide services” and more than consumers expected them to, she noted.

In 2020, geolocation information had reportedly made its way to bounty hunters and others. The fined ISPs’ subscribers were unable to opt out of the collection of that data because it is used to provide the underlying service. Rosenworcel had pressed the FCC, then headed by Republican Ajit Pai, to investigate the matter, and had pushed carriers on whether they had ended the practice as promised.
Rosenworcel said that given that finding, she wanted the ISPs to get back to her on their specific data retention and third-party sharing policies for geolocation information.

The White House added its imprimatur to the probe, saying at the time the letters were sent out: "[T]he FCC Chairwoman [has written] to the top 15 mobile providers requesting information about their data retention and data privacy policies and general practices, consistent with the President’s commitment to protecting Americans’ privacy."

It repeated that promotional push this week, forwarding the FCC press release about releasing the carrier response letters. In that release, Rosenworcel signaled those responses would help the Enforcement Bureau with its "new investigation into mobile carriers’ compliance with FCC rules that require carriers to fully disclose to consumers how they are using and sharing geolocation data." ■

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.