With the threat brought about by the location tracking system issues on iPhones and Android smartphones, the Federal Communications Commission decided to organize a public forum tackling these matters. It will be held on June 28 in Washington DC, and is inviting telecom industries, smartphone operating systems suppliers, privacy groups and academia to take part. The forum will center around FCC’s stated goal: to explore “how consumers can be both smart and secure” when using cutting-edge smartphones that are capable of precisely tracking a user’s whereabouts multiple times during the course of a day.
“This is the first time the FCC has taken a comprehensive look at location-based services and privacy,” says Ruth Milkman the FCC’s wireless bureau chief. “We recognize the enormous potential for benefit that location-based services offer – but we’re also acutely aware of the risks caused by consumer confusion.”
The body also invited privacy experts from the FTC, which is a leader in poring over the compromises seen in personal privacy because of targeted online ads (since this kind of advertisement is basically mining and advertising data to create online consumer profiles).
“Together with the FTC staff, we are looking forward to a vibrant and robust conversation with a diverse group of stakeholders – including the public – about how people can utilize location-based services in a smart and secure way,” says Milkman.
The FCC is the authority in calling the attention of mobile and network giants such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint, as well as Apple and Google, to adhere to business practices. This location tracking system has become the focal point of Senator Al Franken’s scrutiny last week, prying Apple and Google officials as to why it has a tracking system.
“Privacy is a big area of concern right now; Congress and the FTC are looking at this,” says Blevins, who is an FCC expert. “This has become an important issue to these players and it makes sense that the FCC wants to be in on it and announce their involvement.”
While this move by the FCC looks like a good one, Jeffrey Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, is not convinced of the good intentions of this forum, pointing out that it took the body “so long to even ask the right questions — even Congress has beat them to it,” says Chester. “I fear this event will feature smooth-talking industry representatives who will lull the FCC into believing that consumers don’t need any new safeguards when they really do.”