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Caution Urged

Privacy Concerns Raised Repeatedly in Final Comments on Wireless Alerts

The wireless industry asked the FCC to go slow on major changes to wireless emergency alerts, in reply comments posted Tuesday in docket 15-91. Commenters also raised privacy concerns. A Further NPRM, approved by commissioners 4-0 in April, proposed to require participating providers to ensure mobile devices can translate alerts into the 13 most commonly spoken languages in the U.S. aside from English, to send thumbnail-sized images in WEA messages, and other changes (see 2304200040).

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While CTIA supports the Commission’s commitment to reach more people in an emergency, and to do so more effectively, it agrees with commenters who caution against adopting proposals without thorough study, development, and testing,” the group said. Other proposed changes “such as inclusion of multimedia content and performance reporting requirements, remain fraught with practical and technical challenges and disagreement between stakeholders,” and in some cases “raise significant privacy issues that could lead consumers to opt-out of receiving alerts,” CTIA said.

CTIA sought a few changes, including the use of embedded links “to immediately address consumer’s needs for multilingual support consistent with the approach used in New York City to support many languages.” The FCC should also look at the use of machine translation technologies for multilingual support and make clear that Warning Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act protections “fully cover” carriers, device makers, operating system providers and translation software developers, CTIA said.

Some commenters don’t have “a full understanding" of "WEA technology and capabilities” and “further education on WEA is needed,” ATIS said. The FCC also should weigh the costs of various proposals, the group said.

The FCC should pay attention to the privacy implications of WEAs, said the Electronic Frontier Foundation. “We are concerned this rulemaking may lead to the loss of user control over their ability to opt-out of geolocation services,” EFF said, noting it doesn’t question the value of WEAs in emergencies: “But we urge the Commission to seriously consider the privacy implications of any rule that mandates that location services always be enabled on mobile devices, even when users attempt to disable them.”

Apple also urged the FCC to protect consumer privacy. The FNPRM includes the proposal that carriers “collect data from user devices -- including whether a user was inside a WEA alerting area and whether the user opted to receive the WEA -- and submit performance information to an FCC database,” Apple said: “The record confirms that this requirement would pose substantial privacy risks and be less effective than other methods of assessing WEA performance.” The record also shows the WEA system “should not override users’ location preference settings or decisions about whether to receive WEA messages,” Apple said.

Consensus Seen

Verizon saw agreement on many of the FCC's proposals. Other comments “confirm Verizon’s concerns for the lack of stakeholder consensus, technical infeasibility, unclear public safety benefit, and unclear consumer benefit of several of the FNPRM’s more burdensome and expansive proposals,” Verizon said: “FNPRM proposals on silent alerts (whether alert originator- or consumer-initiated), expanded live testing, and device-based performance and reporting are particularly problematic.”

The rules shouldn’t require providers to identify every network dead spot in WEA filings, T-Mobile said. T-Mobile also emphasized the importance of not changing the definition of an WEA-capable device. “Various parties support expanding the definition of mobile devices subject to WEA requirements, but T-Mobile agrees with those arguing that the definition of a ‘mobile device’ should not be expanded beyond handsets and that many non-smartphone devices are incapable of supporting WEA,” the filing said. The definition should “continue to include older devices that comply with earlier WEA requirements,” T-Mobile said.

Southern Linc backed “further analysis, development and evaluation” to ensure “any new requirements are consistent with the technical capabilities and architecture of the existing WEA system and will not adversely impact the system’s performance.” Compliance time frames for any new WEA requirements that may be adopted should account for “the time needed for standardization, development, testing, and deployment of the necessary technical solutions, and should further account for the disproportionate impact that such requirements would have on the more limited resources of smaller regional and rural service providers,” Southern Linc said.

The U.S. Geological Survey urged more attention to earthquake early warning (EEW) alerts. “The effectiveness of public EEW alerts … is seriously hampered by current performance limitations of the WEA system,” the agency said: “Those limitations include message delivery latency, language and media content constraints, and the absence of an attention tone unique to EEW. The USGS has a compelling interest in the proposed rules changes because they have the potential to significantly increase the effectiveness of EEW alerts.”

Minnesota’s Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) said WEA could benefit from the approach it has taken to alerting non-English speakers. “The challenges inherent in designing a successful approach to multi-language emergency alerting are not novel -- the public safety community has faced them before,” TPT said: “The Commission can learn from this existing experience as it considers a workable, cost-effective approach to reach English language learners, and TPT stands ready to serve as a resource.”