Your cellphone knows a lot about you, and that concerns privacy advocates

A recent analysis shows cellphone carriers hold location data for long periods — sometimes many months, other times years.

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Our cellphones have turned into mini-tracking devices that know where we are at most moments, and that data could end up in the hands of police.

That’s the upshot of a recently released Federal Communications Commission report. The FCC requested data retention and privacy policy information from 15 mobile carriers and released their responses as part of the government agency’s probe into data privacy.

Our cellphones have turned into mini-tracking devices that know where we are at most moments, and that data could end up in the hands of police. (Photo: AdobeStock)

“Our mobile phones know a lot about us,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said last week. “That means carriers know who we are, who we call, and where we are at any given moment. This information and geolocation data is really sensitive. It’s a record of where we’ve been and who we are. That’s why the FCC is taking steps to ensure this data is protected.”

The FCC received responses from major carriers such as AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile.

An analysis of the carrier responses that CNN completed shows that the companies hold location data for long periods — sometimes many months, other times years. Additionally, carriers cooperate with government agencies that send requests seeking personal data information like a user’s location.

For example, in its response to the FCC, Verizon Wireless — the country’s largest wireless provider with 143 million customers — wrote that it “collects geolocation data as needed to develop, provide, and improve our services and experiences for our customers. We generally retain such information for the period for which it is needed for business purposes. And we notify our customers about the limited circumstances in which location information otherwise can be preserved and shared, including with law enforcement.”

CNN noted that carriers collect data for various reasons, including improving network operations, satisfying FCC regulations that require carriers to provide certain information on 911 calls, and even consumer-based data like rush-hour traffic patterns.

But privacy advocates have long worried that location data collection could be used to “infringe on individual privacy,” as the ACLU notes

“Knowing where a person’s phone is located can reveal sensitive information, like when they go to the doctor or psychologist, what political activities they engage in, who they spend time with, and where they sleep at night,” the ACLU states on its website.

Rosenworcel, in the announcement, also revealed that she’s asked for “a new investigation into mobile carriers’ compliance with FCC rules that require carriers to fully disclose to consumers how they are using and sharing geolocation data.”

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