In today’s wireless industry, consumers have a variety of choices from a number of companies – whether it’s app creators, content developers, device manufacturers or service providers. This wide array of options is why the U.S. wireless industry is robustly competitive and innovative.

State and federal laws, as well as wireless company best practices and privacy initiatives, are in place to enhance consumer protection.  At the same time, consumers must take the time to review each app, product and service they use with their wireless devices to know how personal information, including location, may be used.

Tips to Protect Your Privacy

It has never been more important to protect your device and your data – but it has also never been easier. Here are 12 tips to help you.

  • Add a PIN or password to lock your device. Access your phone’s security settings and create a PIN or passcode. Make sure you change this PIN or passcode regularly.
  • Use your phone’s auto-lock features. Enable the auto-lock feature in your phone’s settings so that it requires a passcode when you’re not actively using it.
  • Install security software. Just like you protect your PC with antivirus software, you should do the same with your smartphone.
  • Set up phone locating, locking and erasing apps/features. These apps or pre-installed features on your device enable you to track your smartphone’s location, lock it and wipe its data in the event it is lost or stolen.
  • Install operating system and app updates as they become available. These updates often fix security glitches or bugs, so it’s important to download updates as soon as they are available.
  • Know what personal data your apps want to collect. Check an app’s permissions to understand what personal information it wants to collect and how it will be used. If you aren’t using an app, delete it.
  • Turn off Bluetooth® and Wi-Fi when you don’t need it. Security for public Wi-Fi networks varies. Plus, it will save battery life.
  • Evaluate the trade-off of “free.” Access to your device’s information may enable some apps to be free, makes ad services more efficient and makes the ads you receive more relevant. When asked to share information with apps, decide whether these advantages are worth it.
  • Read reviews of apps before you download. App stores provide information on the app developer. If there is no contact information for the developer, download cautiously.
  • DON’T use unknown app stores. Stick with the app stores connected to your device’s operating system or another well-known third-party. Most app stores evaluate apps to find and remove any that might be malicious.
  • DON’T open unknown links or files. Links and files from unknown senders may contain harmful or malicious malware.

Protecting Your Phone Records

Federal law and company practices protect your personal information collected by carriers to provide your service.  The following is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) description of Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI) and the existing laws in place to protect your privacy.

Both Congress and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) impose requirements on telephone companies and VoIP providers about how they can use this personal information and what they must do to protect it from disclosure. Both Congress and the FCC have strengthened their rules to combat a practice known as “pretexting,” or posing as the actual customer or a law enforcement official to obtain telephone calling records. In some cases, data brokers offer calling records for sale on the Internet. Congress has passed a law making it a crime punishable by fine or imprisonment of up to 10 years to obtain calling records from a telephone company or VoIP provider by: making false or fraudulent statements, providing fraudulent documents, or accessing customer records without prior authorization through the Internet or fraudulent computer-related activities. The law also prohibits the unauthorized sale or transfer of confidential phone records or the purchase or receipt of such information with knowledge that it was obtained fraudulently or without authorization.

Both a law passed by Congress and FCC rules impose a general duty on telephone companies and VoIP providers to protect the confidentiality of your customer information. Telephone companies and VoIP providers may use, disclose or permit access to your customer information in these circumstances: (1) as required by law; (2) with your approval; and (3) in providing the service from which the customer information is derived.

Go here for additional information on CPNI rules.

Location Based Services

Many consumers find location based services (LBS) and over-the-top (OTT) services to be useful. For example, they can identify the closest movie theater or provide door-to-door directions. However, if consumers do not want to share their location information with these LBS providers, they may choose to disable their location information on their devices or simply choose to not use those LBS or OTT services.

In a proactive effort to promote and protect consumer privacy, participating LBS providers developed and agreed to the Best Practices and Guidelines for Location Based Services in 2008. The LBS Guidelines require LBS providers to give consumers notice and choice and are consistent with the 2012 Federal Trade Commission’s Privacy Best Practices.

Protecting Children Online

At the federal level, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission has established rules under the Child Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) to restrict companies from knowingly collecting personal information from children under 13 online without parental consent. The Federal Communications Commission requires schools that receive federal funds to offer technology to create online safety plans and place filtering software on computers that are used by children. Federal law also requires any provider of an electronic communication service or remote computing service with knowledge of any violation of certain sexual exploitation and child pornography laws to report those facts to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children CyberTip Line.

At the state and local government levels, there are a number of laws and policy initiatives that have been enacted to promote appropriate and safe wireless use for kids.

  • School boards and teachers recognize the potential of wireless to revolutionize and improve education, which is why they are working to integrate wireless into the classroom.
  • State Attorneys General have focused on enforcing federal and state consumer protection laws and working collaboratively with industry to address online safety issues.
  • State legislators have passed or are considering passage of laws to address cyberbullying, cyberstalking/harassment and sexting.

Similar to the continued evolution of the Internet, experts from the National Telecommunications & Internet Administration’s Online Safety & Technology Working Group recognized that there is “no one-size-fits-all, once-and-for-all solution to providing children with every aspect of online child safety. Rather, it takes a comprehensive ‘toolbox’ from which parents, educators, and other safety providers can choose tools appropriate to children’s developmental stages and life circumstances, as they grow.”

Additional Privacy Resources