Top House Dem requests emergency FCC briefing on wireless providers' data-sharing practices

Top House Dem requests emergency FCC briefing on wireless providers' data-sharing practices
© Greg Nash

The new chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee is requesting an emergency briefing from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding its oversight of the mobile wireless industry following a report on how mobile providers share their users' location data.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.Frank Joseph PalloneHillicon Valley: Trump AG pick signals new scrutiny on tech giants | Wireless providers in new privacy storm | SEC brings charges in agency hack | Facebook to invest 0M in local news Mobile providers at center of privacy storm Hillicon Valley: Dem blasts groups behind Senate campaign disinformation effort | FCC chief declines to give briefing on location-data sales | Ocasio-Cortez tops lawmakers on social media | Trump officials to ease drone rules MORE (D-N.J.) wrote to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai saying a briefing was necessary as soon as possible even though the agency is not in operation due to the government shutdown.

“This briefing should explain why the Federal Communications Commission has yet to end wireless carriers’ unauthorized disclosure of consumers’ real-time location data and what actions the FCC has taken to address this issue to date," Pallone wrote in his letter.

"An emergency briefing is necessary in the interest of public safety and national security, and therefore cannot wait until President TrumpDonald John TrumpSchumer unsatisfied with AG nominee Barr's position on Mueller probe House passes disaster relief bill to fund government through Feb. 8 Overnight Defense: Four Americans killed in Syria suicide attack | State of the Union becomes latest shutdown flashpoint | Missile defense review on track for Thursday release MORE decides to reopen the government.”

The request comes after tech news outlet Motherboard published this week a report detailing how easy it is for precise location data from certain carriers to be bought and sold.

The site gave $300 and a phone number to a bounty hunter, who was then able to track down the location of a T-Mobile user within a few hundred feet.

The bounty hunter did it by buying the location data from a company called Microbilt that had obtained it from a third-party location aggregator, which in turn had received it from T-Mobile.

T-Mobile responded by promising to shut down all data transmission to Microbilt from the third-party, Zumigo, and reiterated its pledge to end all such data-sharing agreements by March.

AT&T also pledged this week to end such partnerships and Sprint said it was cutting off data access to Zumigo and Microbilt.

Verizon says it has terminated all third-party location aggregation agreements aside from a handful of roadside assistance companies.

But Pallone on Friday said “the public can no longer rely on their voluntary promises to protect this extremely sensitive information,” especially after the industry went through a similar scandal last year.

“The FCC must take immediate action to ensure no wireless carrier is allowing the rampant disclosure of real-time location data, and take enforcement action against carriers that violated the Commission’s rules and the trust of their customers.”

The FCC has not been responding to press queries due to the shutdown.