An op-ed published on April 2, 2019, by The New York Times, highlights the need for urgent Federal attention of data breaches. Written by Geoffrey Starks, a member of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the opinion editorial notes how easy it is for corporate giants to collect and sell their user’s data to advertising companies for millions of dollars.
Technological Advancement: A Double-Edged Sword
Technologically, the world has taken a considerable leap in the last couple of decades. The following is a 5MB hard disk drive developed by IBM in 1956, for example.
Compare this with any of the high-performance Notebooks available today, and one quickly realizes the rapid pace of change of technology.
Even the internet has had multiple iterations since its invention. And while technological advancement has helped humanity tremendously, it has brought along with it some elements which put our privacy at the mercy of multi-billion enterprises.
The Big Brother Is Watching You
In the op-ed, Starks outlines how wireless devices such as mobile phones continuously keep track of their user’s whereabouts while also developing a rough idea about their daily routine.
And although location services can be beneficial during emergencies, their constant vigilance might force people to reconsider whether its benefits are worth the breach of privacy.
These wireless carriers later sell the collected data which could potentially be used for illicit purposes. For example, there have been multiple reported cases of stalkers and abusive domestic partners using location data to track victims. Starks adds that the prevalence of such “pay to track” schemes is in direct conflict with the law and FCC rules.
The usual assumption that you’re only being tracked if you provide apps the permission to locate you is utterly wrong.
Data providers keep track of their customers’ geographical locations all the time. As recently reported by Vice, a bounty hunter was paid to track a user’s location on a map accurate to within a few feet.
In another instance, a sheriff in Missouri, U.S., was able to track a judge by using location data provided by carriers. Such cases are a testimony of how urgent it is for government agencies and telecom regulators to tighten the noose around data carriers.
Legislators Call for Immediate Attention
The unauthorized tracking of user’s location data has been a burning topic among legislators in the U.S.
On May 8, 2018, Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, sent a letter to the FCC demanding an immediate investigation into abuses by the pay-to-track industry. The letter received strong coverage from national dailies such as The New York Times, which forced the data providers to give in to the regulatory pressure.