FCC Chair Questions Carmakers On Privacy

Federal Communications Commissioner Chair Jessica Rosenworcel has joined a growing list of officials expressing concerns about car manufacturers' privacy practices.

On Thursday, she demanded answers from nine car companies and three mobile carriers about their policies surrounding location data. While Rosenworcel pegged her move to a New York Times report about abusers harnessing data to stalk domestic violence victims, the answers to her questions could also shed light on how car companies share data for commercial purposes.

Among other questions, Rosenworcel asked the carmakers to list any connected apps or devices that allow for location tracking, and to explain how they retain, share or sell geolocation data that's connected by such apps or devices. She also asked AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile how they retain, share or sell drivers' geolocation data gleaned from connected apps or devices.

Her letters come as auto manufacturers are facing increasing scrutiny of their privacy practices.

For instance, California's privacy agency said in July it planned to review the practices of connected vehicles.

“Data privacy considerations are critical because these vehicles often automatically gather consumers’ locations, personal preferences, and details about their daily lives,” the agency stated at the time.

In September the nonprofit Mozilla declared cars a “privacy nightmare,” writing that most cars not only collect too much data, but also sell the information -- all without allowing consumers to wield control over their data.

“Car brands quietly entered the data business by turning their vehicles into powerful data-gobbling machines,” Mozilla wrote in the post, “It’s Official: Cars Are the Worst Product Category We Have Ever Reviewed for Privacy.”

And last month, Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) warned the CEOs of 14 car companies against selling information that could enable data brokers to create detailed profiles of consumers.

“As cars increasingly become high-tech computers on wheels, they produce vast amounts of data on drivers, passengers, pedestrians, and other motorists, creating the potential for severe privacy violations,” Markey (D-Massachusetts) wrote.

“This data could reveal sensitive personal information, including location history and driving behavior, and can help data brokers develop detailed data profiles on users,” he continued. “These business practices must end.”

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