FCC Chair Grills ISPs on Geolocation Data Policies

FCC chair Jessica Rosenworcel at NAB Show in 2022
Jessica Rosenworcel (Image credit: JohnStaleyPhoto.com)

Federal Communications Commission chair Jessica Rosenworcel has launched a probe of the top mobile broadband providers, including Comcast and Charter Communications, about their data collection practices.

In letters to more than a dozen top carriers, 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.

Among the data she wants access to are: 1) the reason geolocation data is retained; 2) how long it is retained; 3) how that data is safeguarded; 4) data deletion policies; 5) if subs can opt out of data retention policies and, if not, why not; 6) policies for sharing data with law enforcement; 7) and whether subs are notified when their geolocation data is shared.

She wants responses by Aug. 3. 

Rosenworcel's letters drew the attention of the White House, which issued the following press release Wednesday evening: "Today, the FCC Chairwoman wrote 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." ■

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.