U.S. Senator Raises Cell Phone Privacy Issue
U.S. Senator Al Franken (D–MN) is raising concerns over whether a software developer has placed difficult-to-find software in smart phones that logs many details about the user’s activities, including location. Franken’s concerns come as the result of a recent study by security researcher Trevor Eckhart that found software created by Carrier IQ is being installed in many smart phones; has the capability to record every text message, web search, and phone number; and this information is being reported to mobile phone carriers without the user’s knowledge or consent.
Senator Franken chairs the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law and said in early December, “The revelation that the locations and other sensitive data of millions of Americans are being secretly recorded and possibly transmitted is deeply troubling. Consumers need to know that their safety and privacy are being protected by the companies they trust with their sensitive information.” No doubt his committee will be conducting an investigation into this potentially serious privacy issue.
The HuffingtonPost helpfully identifies which smart phones have Carrier IQ tracking capabilities and how the software can be disabled at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/01/carrier-iq-iphone-android-blackberry_n_1123575.html.
Facebook Faces Privacy Concerns
The Federal Trade Commission is investigating whether social media site Facebook is violating users’ privacy by tracking where members and non-members go on the Web for 90 days following their visit to a Facebook Web page. U.S. Representative Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, argues this could be an unfair or deceptive business practice. Representative Markey is the co-sponsor of a bill with Republican U.S. Representative Joe Barton of Texas that would limit online tracking of children.
Privacy advocates are concerned businesses like Facebook will use the information gathered on members and non-members to target them with advertising. Some consumers may welcome more targeted advertising. However, I agree with privacy advocates that this type of technology could lead to corporations, government agencies, and others routinely purchasing consumer tracking information from data warehousers that could then be used for improper purposes. My concern increases when I think about the significant amount of personal information my children and their friends place each day on the Internet through social media sites like Facebook despite my frequent warnings that private information could become public rather quickly.
The European Union has responded to similar privacy concerns by banning Facebook tracking from government websites and has advised private companies to do the same. I have no doubt U.S. regulators will be thinking about taking similar action here.
AT&T Acquisition of T-Mobile Hits Very Stormy Regulatory Seas
As mentioned in my October 2011 Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News column, AT&T has been attempting to acquire T-Mobile from Deutsche Telekom A.G. for $39 billion, all so that it can become the largest U.S. wireless provider. Late in November the Federal Communications Commission joined the U.S. Department of Justice in opposing the acquisition following its release of a lengthy report that argues the combination would hurt competition, lead to higher prices for consumers, and would lead to substantial job losses rather than the substantial job gains promised by AT&T. Telecommunications observers believe this report may be the death knell for the proposed acquisition and that T-Mobile will either stay independent or be purchased by a smaller wireless provider.
Have a safe and enjoyable New Year!