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Joint FTC/FCC Forum Addresses Issues Relevant to Broadcasters' Use of Mobile Platforms

Amy E. Worlton and Jake Riehm
July 2011 | Mass Media Headlines

On June 28, 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held a joint forum-attended by representatives from telecommunications carriers, technology companies, consumer advocacy groups and academia-to discuss issues related to mobile privacy.  The forum specifically addressed privacy protections for the geolocation information of users of location-based services (LBSs) and whether legislation or regulation is needed to ensure the privacy of users' location information.  This forum is part of the continuing uptick in legislative and regulatory interest in privacy matters, which has included reports issued in late 2010 by the FTC and the Department of Commerce and several privacy-related bills in Congress, including two recent bills addressing geolocation privacy specifically.

LBSs include mobile applications that make use of users' geolocation information. Increasingly, broadcasters are using such mobile applications to interact with their audiences.  For example, broadcasters can use geolocation information gathered by their mobile applications to target specific content or advertisements to users or to get a better picture of their audience.  Therefore, the issues discussed at the joint forum, as well as any future regulatory or legislative activity concerning geolocation privacy, may have a significant impact on how broadcasters expand their businesses in the mobile space.

Joint forum participants generally agreed that customers benefit from mobile applications and services that utilize user location.  Consumer advocacy participants, however, expressed concern about potential other uses of that data, including the retention, transfer and sale of location information.  The Center for Democracy and Technology voiced support for comprehensive privacy legislation that would establish baseline privacy rights and requirements applicable to user information, including geolocation data.  Most technology telecommunications carriers and technology companies, on the other hand, disfavored additional regulation or legislation, arguing that companies had marketplace incentives to be extremely careful about user privacy, and that, given the early stage of the LBS industry, the government likely lacks the information needed to create requirements that would meaningfully protect user privacy without stifling innovation and growth in the LBS space. 

While it is unclear what future requirements will result from this continued focus on privacy matters, broadcasters should take positive steps to ensure that they collect, use and handle user information appropriately.  For example, the privacy policies that govern a broadcaster's Web and mobile offerings should completely and accurately reflect that broadcaster's real-world collection and use of data.  Broadcasters should take great care to avoid collecting personal information from children and remember that marketing to mobile devices often requires opt-in consent.  Finally, broadcasters should ensure that they provide adequate security for the user data they collect.

For more information, please contact Amy E. Worlton at 202.719.7458 or aworlton@wileyrein.com.

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