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Reps. Seek Privacy Policy Info from Wireless Carriers

The co-chairs of the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus have asked for information on data-disclosure, collection and storage info from the four major wireless carriers--AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile.

In letters to the four Tuesday, Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.) said they were concerned by a New York Times article about a German mobile phone company that was tracking users' locations and destinations without their knowledge.

The letters point out that there is a provision in the Communications Act that requires companies in this country to get express authorization for use of location information for commercial purposes, and wanted to make sure they are in compliance.

Markey and Barton want the following info:

"What personally identifiable information does your company collect from your customers?

"How is this information collected (i.e., initial sign-up process, usage of mobile phone, etc.)?

"Other than pinpointing a customer's location for purposes of identifying the strongest signal, does your company use any other mechanisms for determining the location of a customer's mobile phone, such as how frequently the customer checks her email?  If yes, what are these mechanisms and what is the purpose of each of them?

"How does your company use customer's personally identifiable information? Does your company rent or sell the information?

"Does your company use personally identifiable information for marketing purposes?

Congress, the FTC and the administration are all working on the best combination of government pressure/legislation and industry action to give users more control and peace of mind about the uses and potential abuses of their information online."

The legislators have given the companies until April 19 to respond.