April 28, 2011: Markey, Barton Respond to Wireless Companies
Follows Inquires of Apple Collection of Personal Location Information by iPhones, iPads
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressmen Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.) today released the responses from the four major U.S. wireless carriers – AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile – after the lawmakers wrote to the companies inquiring about their data collection, storage and disclosure practices for customers’ personally identifiable information. Reps. Markey and Barton, co-Chairmen of the House Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, wrote to the wireless carriers in response to a New York Times report that a German mobile phone company tracked the locations and destinations of one of its customers, including latitude and longitude coordinates.
“The responses of the wireless carriers provide important insights into how each company collects, uses and stores personal location data, including examples of how consumers can grant or withhold consent when location-based services are utilized,” said Rep. Markey. “Consumer consent and control are critical to ensure adequate privacy protections, and the responses shine a light on the various methods used to safeguard consumers’ sensitive information.
“The use of encryption and related security technologies were utilized to varying degrees across the four wireless carriers, and sensitive data was retained for differing periods of time,” continued Rep. Markey. “Personal data should be made unreadable to those without a legitimate need to access it to the greatest extent possible, and the data should not be retained longer than absolutely necessary. Otherwise, there is a heightened risk of security breaches that expose consumers to identity theft and other crimes.
“As more Americans, including children, use mobile devices and applications that collect personal information such as location information, protecting consumer privacy must be a priority,” concluded Rep. Markey. “This applies across the entire wireless ecosystem – from wireless carriers, to mobile handset makers, to application developers. This issue should be approached comprehensively, and I will continue to examine and investigate existing privacy safeguards and propose strengthening measures when needed to ensure that consumers are aware of how their information is used and empowered to keep it private.”
“After thoroughly reviewing the responses from the wireless carriers, I am left with a feeling of uneasiness and uncertainty,” said Rep. Barton. “The companies informed us that customer consent before access of location data is a common practice, but the disconnect is when third-party applications come in to play. While I am happy to hear that carriers inform their customers of the risks of using independent third-party applications, third-party developers can access the location of customers anytime they want. This is a huge problem. They shouldn’t have free reign over your location data and personally identifiable information. I believe it is time we hold third-party developers accountable, and I am determined to work with other members of Congress to get this done.”
Full copies of the company responses can be found here: T-Mobile Sprint AT&T Verizon
A sample of the letters from Rep. Markey and Barton to the wireless companies can be found HERE .