FCC-FTC Forum Highlights the Benefits and Risks of Advances in Location-Based Services
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On June 28, 2011, the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission convened a public education forum entitled “Helping Consumers Harness the Potential of Location-Based Services.”  Representatives of telecommunications carriers, technology companies and consumer advocacy organizations discussed technological developments and how best to realize the benefits of location-based services without compromising privacy.

Panel 1 explored the types of location-based services currently available, how customers use them, and the trajectory of technology development.  Participants acknowledged the trend toward collecting increasingly granular location information, emphasizing both the value of precise services and the need for user control to address the attendant privacy and security issues.  Panelists noted the impact of current policies regarding government access to information on customer trust in carriers, technology and applications.  While some speakers pointed to the need to mitigate risk and enhance trust, they also highlighted evolving consumer norms about privacy in location-based information and the need to allow expectations to evolve before setting too many rules.

Panel 2 continued this discussion, focusing on steps industry is taking to protect consumer privacy, establish industry best practices, and develop privacy-enhancing technologies.  The need for transparency and effective notice, consumer education and meaningful choice were recurring themes in the discussion.  Participants acknowledged the limitations of notice and the challenges of presenting effective notice and useful choice with respect to location-based services.  They emphasized the importance of privacy by design and highlighted the need to avoid imposing specific, prescriptive requirements, favoring instead flexible and principles-based guidance.

The final panel provided an overview of steps that consumers can take now to protect their privacy when using location-based services.  Many of the panelists’ comments focused on issues unique to children’s use of location-based services, and the challenges for parents who may be less familiar with the technology than their young children.  While some panelists highlighted certain advantages location-based services can offer families (e.g., services that can help locate family members, or limit how far a minor can roam), much of the discussion centered on how to better educate parents and children.

The FCC has invited comments on the issues discussed in this forum, to be submitted by July 8.  Additional information about the forum, the questions for comment, and filing instructions my be found on the Federal Communications Commission website.


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