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Groups Concerned About FCC Collection/Sharing of Online Consumer Data

A coalition of groups has warned the FCC to be
careful how it collects and/or shares consumer online information as part of
its broadband speed tests

a letter to FCC chairman Julius Genachowski,
the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Communications Liberty and Innovation
Project, TechFreedom, Center for Media and Democracy and a half-dozen others
sais they were concerned consumers were turning over information to the
government that could be used to "review" their Internet activity
"without due process or judicial scrutiny."

FCC is using the information to "help determine the access of U.S. residents to
broadband (such as cable, DSL, fiber, and other
broadband services, including mobile services." The info may be shared
with NTIA and the Agriculture Department, both of which
oversee broadband deployment and adoption grants and loans.

the groups are worried that the test gives the FCC too much access to personal
info without enough checks and balances. "These tests, according to the
FCC, aim to provide citizens "better information about the quality and
availability of their broadband and mobile broadband connections." But the FCC
appears to be collecting more personal information than necessary, failing to
fully disclose what it is collecting, and providing this information to law
enforcement without any due process or judicial scrutiny."

FCC did not have a comment on the letter at press time.

FCC's privacy statement for the test does point out that the commission may
share individual IP or street addresses or other info under some limited
circumstances, which it enumerates in the statement.

collected by the tests includes users' IP addresses, street addresses, mobile
handset latitude/longitude data and unique handset identification
numbers," said the groups, and they want the FCC to evaluate the privacy
implications of that data collection, which includes:

  • Disclosing personal information to other government agencies for purposes
    unrelated to broadband testing only when doing so is required by law;
  • Minimizing its collection and retention of potentially sensitive personal
    information (including street
    addresses and handset identification numbers);
  • Where the collection of such information is justified, properly
    de-identifying the data to preserve its value and protect the identities of
    individuals and their locations;
  • Regularly disclosing how personal information, including street
    addresses, is retained, used, and shared with other governmental agencies;
  • Imposing the same limits on the public disclosure of IP addresses by the
    FCC's contractors, M-Lab and Ookla, and its other software partners.

coalition also wants the FCC to post a prominent warning to users before they
sign up for the test about how their personal information may be used.

John Eggerton
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.