Yet another non-consensual use of cell geo-data

by on May 11, 2011 · 3 comments

In [a post at Techland yesterday]( I noted that the FCC and FEMA’s new “PLAN” text-based emergency alert system might do little good since new media seems to always beat government to get out critical information:

>If history is any guide, however, you may not get any messages from 1600 Pennsylvania. Since the Emergency Alert System was created in 1963, it’s never been activated, despite hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Oklahoma City bombing, and 9/11. Why?

>The chairman of the FCC during the 9/11 attacks, Michael Powell, says that “The explosion of 24-hour-a-day, 7-day-a-week media networks in some ways has proven to supplant those original conceptions of a senior leader’s need to talk to the people.”

>Given that it was Twitter, and not the President’s address, that recently broke the killing of Osama Bin Laden, you have to wonder whether the new service will be just as swiftly supplanted.

Another thing occurred to me talking to a colleague today. The PLAN system relies on cell carriers’ ability to track your geographic location so that targeted warning messages can be sent to your phone depending on where it is you are at the moment. Also, as far as I can tell from [the FCC’s fact sheet](, you’re automatically signed up for the system when you buy a phone and you cannot opt-out of presidential messages. I wonder if we’ll see a congressional hearing on the use of geo data without consumer consent?


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  • Chris C

    There is no need for it to have any more information about your location than the cell system already has.  GSM, for instance, has “cell broadcast” messages which allow users in specifica areas who have enabled the messages to receive them ‘targetted’ at those areas — but the message is broadcast, the filtering is done by location (if you aren’t connected to a tower sending it then you won’t receive it) and by the phone (whether you have that type of message enabled).  The network provider doesn’t know (or care) whether you are in range or have it enabled.

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