On Tuesday, Motherboard published an article exposing the jaw-dropping ease of data collection and commercialization practices that can allow a stranger to find a cell phone’s location with just a phone number and $300. Motherboard’s investigation found that telecommunications companies, including T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint, would sell location data with an aggregator, which sold the data to MicroBilt, which then sold it to a Motherboard investigator for “dirt cheap.”
Ever since the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica story broke, privacy has been the talk of the town in Washington, DC, and conventional wisdom is that Congress will begin debating comprehensive privacy legislation in earnest in 2019. In preparation, members of Congress are starting to drop their message bills and discussion drafts. Public Knowledge has evaluated each of the proposals so far, and we offer our initial take here.
It seems almost every week there are new revelations about Facebook’s data use and sharing policies. The Federal Trade Commission is currently investigating Facebook for a potential consent decree violation related to the release of user data to Cambridge Analytica. The new allegations of data misuse in the New York Times this week may also be a violation of the consent decree. They are at least worthy of FTC investigation. And the cache of previously sealed litigation documents published by a British Member of Parliament earlier this month seem to indicate that Facebook may have been strategically withholding this valuable data from “strategic competitors” such as upstart Vine. Taken together, the two stories paint a frightening picture. Was Facebook granting access to private user data to cement its market position, offering it up to the powerful and wielding it as a cudgel against potential competitors? At the close of the current investigation, the FTC should demand remedies that protect users’ privacy while encouraging competition on the Facebook platform and against Facebook itself.
Forget bitcoin; human information has become the true cryptocurrency of our world. Online discrimination and privacy breaches are happening at an alarming rate and affecting those most vulnerable in our society: minority groups, mothers, and the elderly.
At the end of June, California enacted what has been billed as a comprehensive privacy law. By all accounts, it was a rush job, negotiated in a week behind closed doors in a desperate and successful attempt to keep Californians for Consumer Privacy Campaign Chairman Alaistair MacTaggart’s privacy initiative off the November ballot. As sometimes happens, the law’s proponents and a few reporters may have overhyped the legislation – both given its current contents and because many expect it to change before its effective date in January 2020.