A bipartisan group of House members said on Thursday they are not satisfied with responses they got from nine data brokers, saying the industry needs to be more open about how it uses personal information collected about consumers. Reps. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Joe Barton, R-Texas, co-chairmen of the Congressional Bipartisan Privacy Caucus, and five other lawmakers wrote nine data brokers last summer seeking more information about where they collect data, what type of data is collected, who buys the data, and how it is used. The lawmakers said in a statement that only one company, Acxiom, described itself as a data broker. In its response to the lawmakers, Equifax, which is more well known as one of the three national credit reporting agencies, rejected the data broker label and instead said it offers "marketing services," which it noted only make up 1 percent of its business. Acxiom also was the only company that provided details on how many consumers asked to access data about themselves. Several others said they do not allow consumers to access their data because it is not personally identifiable. Acxion said in the last two years as few as 77 people each year out of the 190 million consumers it has information on asked to see their data. The companies did provide a few details on how they collect data about consumers. Their sources include consumers themselves, telephone directories, mobile phones, government agencies, financial institutions, and social media sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn. "Many questions about how these data brokers operate have been left unanswered, particularly how they analyze personal information to categorize and rate consumers," the lawmakers said in a statement. "This and other practices could affect the lives of nearly all Americans, including children and teens. We want to work with the data broker industry so that it is more open about how it collects, uses, and sells Americans' information." The lawmakers added that they would continue to press for more information about the industry and for consumers to have more control over their own information. They are not alone in calling on data brokers to be more transparent about their activities. Federal Trade Commissioner Julie Brill has been vocal in calling on data brokers to provide consumers more information about the industry. Brill has been mentioned as a possible choice to succeed FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz if he steps down as expected.
Mobile industry policy experts on Thursday said cybersecurity, privacy, and spectrum would be among the top issues facing the mobile industry in 2013. "When I think about the next year, I think the president is focused on moving this economic engine, this dynamo forward," Jim Kohlenberger, former chief of staff at the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Obama administration, said at an event sponsored by Mobile Future, a coalition of tech companies. But he added that "we've got big things we need to do, [such as] getting more spectrum into people's hands. We have to solve important privacy and security challenges." The need for more spectrum has topped the wireless industry's wish lists in recent years and will continue to do so in 2013 despite steps taken by Congress and the Obama administration to free up more airwaves to fuel Americans' demand for new wireless technologies. These steps include an executive order by the president to find 500 megahertz of spectrum over the next decade for mobile broadband and passage of spectrum legislation that authorized incentive auctions to entice television stations to voluntarily give up some of their spectrum. "This president has laid out a very aggressive mobile agenda and has begun to execute on it. I think the next four years are really going to be about execution, execution, execution," said Bryan Tramont, a managing partner at Wilkinson, Barker and Knauer who served as chief of staff to former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael Powell. Some of the challenges the administration will face in implementing its spectrum policies include trying to get federal government users to give up their spectrum for commercial providers and effective implementation by the FCC of the incentive auction process, he said. While spectrum will continue to be a top concern, other panelists also said privacy and cybersecurity will continue to be challenges in the mobile space that the administration will want to address. "The priorities that were going to see very soon are going to be around the ideas or issues surrounding cybersecurity and around privacy," Rob Painter, managing director for the venture capital firm Razor's Edge Ventures. Earlier this year, the administration unveiled a proposal to boost online consumer privacy through a consumer "Privacy Bill of Rights." While the White House called on Congress to implement this proposal through legislation, it also is pushing for industry to implement some of the principles through voluntary industry codes of conduct. The first industry stakeholder effort aimed at developing these codes of conduct is focused on increasing transparency in what data is collected by mobile applications. Tramont noted that companies that want to do business in the mobile space face a challenging landscape in trying to figure out what kind of information they need to provide consumers about their privacy practices given the different messages coming out of the federal government, states, and industry self-regulatory efforts. "There is lot of consumer behavior that is shifting around consumer privacy and I think it is a fundamental challenge for us as an industry to make sure we come up with the right path forward," he said.
Consumer advocates are praising a decision by AT&T to end restrictions on a video-calling app--restrictions that critics say violate federal network competition rules. AT&T announced on Thursday that it would expand access to FaceTime, an app that allows users to make calls without using a carrier's voice service. AT&T had restricted access to the app, saying the app could bog down its network. "It is for this reason that we took a more cautious approach toward the app," AT&T's Jim Cicconi wrote in a blog post on Thursday. "To do otherwise might have risked an adverse impact on the services our customers expect--voice quality in particular--if usage of FaceTime exceeded expectations." Over the coming months the app will be available for use on all of AT&T's tiered data plans, as well as plans for deaf and hard-of-hearing customers. In September, Free Press, Public Knowledge, and the New America Foundation's Open Technology Institute threatened to file a formal complaint with the Federal Communications Commission accusing AT&T of violating the agency's net-neutrality rules, which govern anti-competitive behavior by providers. The groups praised AT&T, but said the complaint will move forward if the carrier doesn't follow through. "AT&T's course correction is a move in the right direction, but until the company makes FaceTime available to all of its customers it is still in violation of the FCC's rules and the broader principles of Net Neutrality," Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood said in a statement.
Both major parties in Vermont are concerned about a potential four-way race for governor that could feature a wealthy independent and a third-party Sanders-style liberal agitator.
Two years after a letter pledging to withhold funds from Obamacare at all costs swept through the GOP, a similar proposal regarding Planned Parenthood funding isn't gaining traction.