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FCC probes how connected cars can be used to ‘stalk, harass, and intimidate’

Chairwoman of US regulator the FCC Jessica Rosenworcel has written to car firms and telcos to ‘seek their help in protecting domestic abuse survivors from the misuse of connected car tools by abusers.’

Andrew Wooden

January 12, 2024

3 Min Read

The argument goes that since new cars make it increasingly easy for passengers and drivers to access hands-free communication tools, find-your-car services, and other technological bells and whistles (many of which will have been boasted about at CES this week), these services have been used to ‘stalk, harass, and intimidate survivors of intimate partner violence.’

Letters were sent to nine car manufacturers, citing a recent report in the NYT (paywall) titled ‘Your car is tracking you. Abusive partners may be, too.’

 The letter reads: “…the report recounts in detail how a woman was tracked by a former partner through connected services associated with the car she was using.  In another example, a man used his remote access to the car to harass his wife by activating the car’s lights and horns a night and running the car’s heat on hot days.  The report finds that car makers have been reluctant or unwilling to assist victims of this abuse or restrict abusive partner access to the car’s connectivity and data—particularly when a victim co-owns the vehicle or is not named on its title.”  

The letters went on to ask the manufacturers for details about the connected car systems they offer, any existing plans to ‘support survivors in their efforts to disconnect from abusers’, and how they handle customers’ geolocation data. 

AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon were also contacted to ask about existing connected car services, treatment of geolocation data, current compliance with the Safe Connections Act of 2022, and ‘how/if the companies provide connected car services to consumers who are not subscribers to their wireless services otherwise.’

“No survivor of domestic violence and abuse should have to choose between giving up their car and allowing themselves to be stalked and harmed by those who can access its data and connectivity,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel. “We must do everything we can to help survivors stay safe.  We need to work with auto and wireless industry leaders to find solutions.”

Last year it was predicted there will 367 million connected cars driving around by 2027. Aside from the usual pageantry of concepts and prototypes that will likely never come to market, there seemed to be a drive from chip makers Intel and Qualcomm at this year’s CES to make connected car technology more affordable and therefore presumably more widespread.

Elsewhere this week, the FCC has said that funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program is expected to dry up by May. The programme is described as ‘the largest – and most successful – broadband affordability program in our nation’s history.’

It supports eligible low-income households struggling to pay for broadband, and nearly 23 million of them across the US rely on it, apparently.

Without more money in the pot, the programme will cease accepting new enrolments early next month, says the FCC. After the official final month of ACP funding, internet providers must send notices to households informing them that the programme is ending. 

“We have successfully connected millions upon millions of households to broadband services,” said Rosenworcel. “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law established a historic and unquestionably successful program to make broadband affordable, and we now appear on the brink of letting that success slip away. Disconnecting millions of families from their jobs, schools, markets, and information is not the solution.  We have come too far with the ACP to turn back.”

As such, the bipartisan ‘Affordable Connectivity Program Extension Act’ was introduced in Congress yesterday, which if adopted, the legislation would provide another $7 billion for the programme. According to the order, when it was launched two years ago the initial funding came in at $14.2 billion – so very roughly it sounds like this additional pot of cash would buy the programme another year or so.

About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

Andrew joins Telecoms.com on the back of an extensive career in tech journalism and content strategy.

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