Ina Fried

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FCC to Public: Is Your Cellphone Carrier Adequately Protecting Your Information?

The Federal Communications Commission on Friday asked the public for comment on whether cellphone carriers need to do a better job of protecting the kinds of information being gathered on modern smartphones.

Shutterstock/Péter Gudella

One of the agency’s mandates is to make sure that the carriers are securely protecting the information they collect from their customers. For example, phone companies have to protect the databases that store the information on call records and other data.

The question on what steps they must take when it comes to information on devices is a tricker one. The FCC looked into this question back in 2007. At the time, the carriers contended that information stored on phones wasn’t information they were collecting, but rather data being voluntarily entered by consumers.

However, the FCC thinks it might be time to revisit this given revelations last year that there is software, such as that from Carrier IQ, that is preinstalled and collecting information that users are largely unaware of and unable to control.

“Since the Commission last solicited public input on this question five years ago, technologies and business practices have evolved dramatically,” the FCC said in the document seeking comments. “The devices consumers use to access mobile wireless networks have become more sophisticated and powerful, and their expanded capabilities have at times been used by wireless providers to collect information about particular customers’ use of the network — sometimes, it appears, without informing the customer.”

The FCC isn’t taking issue with the collection of such information, but rather is examining what duties the carriers might have to encrypt or protect such information. Carrier IQ doesn’t encrypt the data it collects, but does store it in a binary format not generally accessible to other applications, the company said.

“We haven’t gone to that extent because we haven’t needed to,” Carrier IQ Vice President Andrew Coward told AllThingsD on Friday. “If the industry decided we needed to, then we would take that step.”

Carrier IQ is also taking steps to allow customers to see the information that is being collected about them by their software.

Following the comment period, the FCC could decide to, among other things, take no action, clarify its existing rules or propose new rules.

[Image via Shutterstock / Péter Gudella]

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