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Starks Pushes FCC to Wrap Up Location Data Investigation

Democratic FCC commissioner Geoffrey Starks took to the op ed pages of the New York Times to push the FCC to wrap up its investigation of wireless carriers over sharing location data, and act on it.

Starks pointed out that it has been a year since the news that wireless carriers were selling location data of their subs to third parties, data their subs can't opt out of since it is used to provide the underlying service, with no action out of the FCC.

He suggested the FCC could be running up against a statute of limitations and, in any even, that federal action was overdue.

He was using the Times to make his points because "as a Democratic commissioner at the Republican-led agency, I can call for action," he said, "but the chairman sets the agenda, including deciding whether and how quickly to respond to pay-to-track schemes."

The FCC does not comment on ongoing investigations, a spokesperson for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said.

Starks pointed out that subsequently, the major carriers said bounty hunters and others would not have access to the location data any more, and eventually that would extend to all other third parties. But Starks also said that there were news reports that the data was available on the black market.

He said that was dangerous, and disproportionately so for people of color, who rely more heavily on smart phones.

Related: Pallone Slams FCC for Declining Meeting on Location Data Handling

"The agency’s inaction despite these increasingly troubling reports speaks volumes and leaves our duty to the public unfulfilled," he said.

Concern over the handling of location data is not confined to Democrats. In January, House Energy & Commerce Committee members sent letters to T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and others in the wake of reports of T-Mobile selling geo-location data to a third party, Zumingo.

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.