FCC Asks Carmakers, Wireless Companies to Help Protect Domestic Abuse Survivors

FCC Asks Carmakers, Wireless Companies to Help Protect Domestic Abuse Survivors
Federal Communication Commission Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Communications and Technology Subcommittee in the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington on Capitol Hill Dec. 5, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Katabella Roberts

The chairwoman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has called on automakers and wireless service providers to help protect domestic abuse survivors from the misuse of connected car tools by abusers.

In a letter sent to nine large automakers and three voice service providers on Jan. 11, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel urged the companies to hand over details regarding how they protect and support people who have been harassed by domestic abusers.

Ms. Rosenworcel noted that modern vehicles are fitted with ever-more sophisticated features such as hands-free communication tools, location tracking, and more, times at improving the driver experience.

However, she stressed that such services are also increasingly being used by domestic abusers to stalk, harass, and intimidate survivors of intimate partner violence.

“These features rely on wireless connectivity and location data that in the wrong hands can be used to harm partners in abusive relationships,” she wrote.
The FCC head went on to cite a recent report by The New York Times in which domestic violence experts told the publication that internet-connected apps in vehicles were being used by abusers to stalk and harass their victims, and that car makers have failed to assist victims; particularly in cases where the victim is a co-owner of the vehicle, or not named on the title.
“Having access to a car is also a critical lifeline. It is a means of escape and independence, and it is often essential for those seeking employment and support,” she said.

‘Help Survivors Stay Safe’

“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,” Ms. Rosenworcel continued.

“We must do everything we can to help survivors stay safe. We need to work with auto and wireless industry leaders to find solutions.”

Ms. Rosenworcel fired off letters to top executives at vehicle makers Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Stellantis, Elon Musk’s Tesla and Toyota.

The FCC Chairwoman also sent letters to wireless voice service providers AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon.

Specifically, she asked the companies to provide details about the connected car systems they currently offer or plan to pre-install in any future vehicles to be sold in the United States, including those that allow for location tracking or remote access.

Additionally, Ms. Rosenworcel asked whether or not the companies have policies or processes in place to remove access to connected apps, devices, or other features from certain individuals, including those listed on the title of the vehicle, if requested to do so by survivors of abuse.

Ms. Rosenworcel further requested the companies provide information regarding how they handle consumers’ geolocation data and their current adherence to the Safe Connections Act of 2022

The FCC head asked the vehicle makers and wireless service providers to hand over the information by Jan. 26.

Domestic Violence

The National Domestic Violence Hotline reports that one in four women and one in seven men in the United States is a survivor of severe domestic violence in their lifetime.

Meanwhile, an average of 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States, amounting to more than 12 million women and men over the course of a single year.

Meanwhile, one in six women (16.2 percent) and one in 19 men (5.2 percent) in the United States have been a victim of stalking at some point during their lifetime in which they felt fearful or believed that they or someone close to them may be harmed or killed.

Speaking to The New York Times in December, Katie Ray-Jones, the chief executive of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, encouraged individuals in relationships to ensure both partners have equal access to technologies used to control their homes and belongings, including vehicles, as a preventative measure.

“If there’s an app that is controlling your automobile, you both need to have access to that,” she said.

If you or someone you know is suffering from domestic violence, dial 911 or call the national 24/7 hotline at (800) 799- SAFE (7233).