FCC, FTC to Hold Forum on Cell Phones Tracking Users

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) plan a public forum next month on privacy concerns about cell phones and their ability to track the location of users.

The June 28 forum will include recommended best practices individuals can use to guard their privacy.

Google, Facebook and Apple are among the key participants in the FCC-FTC joint forum. Representatives from the telecommunications and technology industry also will participate, as well as various consumer and privacy advocacy groups and members from academia.

Discussion topics will include:

  • How location-based services work.
  • Benefits and risks.
  • Consumer DOs and DON’Ts.
  • Industry best practices.
  • What parents should know about location tracking.
  • when their children use mobile devices.

The forum will be 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. EDT at the FCC Headquarters, 445 12th Street, SW, Washington DC 20554.

The joint forum may be a response by the FCC and FTC to two separate senate subcommittee hearings held earlier this month by the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation and the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law.

Those hearings came about due to an investigation by security researchers and the Wall Street Journal that found Google’s Android devices, Apple’s iPhones and other similar devices track customers’ locations without their knowledge.  At the hearing, senators called on Congress to pass new laws to protect smartphone users from having their locations tracked without their consent.

In bringing awareness to this issue, the federal government is making a statement about the need to preserve some level of privacy in the digital age. Concern over security and privacy is growing as the Internet and mobile devices play larger and larger roles in our work and play.

African-Americans and Latinos may be most at risk, due to their increasing use of smartphones. According to a study by Pew Internet, part of the Pew Research Center, “African-Americans and English-speaking Latinos continue to be among the most active users of the mobile Web.” The study found African-Americans and Latinos are more likely to own cell phones, compared to white Americans, and they are more likely to use more features, such as Internet access.

People often see security and privacy as synonymous, though actually they are distinct. Information security means protecting information from unauthorized access, use, disclosure, modification or destruction. Information privacy is a claim by individuals that data about themselves should not be automatically available to others.

If you are interested in filing comments for the forum, you can use the FCC’s Electronic Comment Filing System via the Internet at http://www.fcc.gov/cgb/ecfs/. Individuals may also submit electronic comments by e-mail.

To get filing instructions for e-mail comments, send an e-mail to ecfs@fcc.gov, and include the following words in the body of the message, “get form.” A sample form and directions will be sent in an e-mail reply.

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