The Location Privacy Act has been passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Sponsored by Al Franken (D-MN), the act makes it mandatory for companies to secure users’ express permission prior to tracking their locations.
Franken spoke about the relationship between profit, location data and antitrust issues in a speech in March, referencing companies like Google and Facebook.
“(A)ccumulating data about you isn’t just a strange hobby for these corporations. It’s their whole business model. And you are not their client. You are their product... when companies become so dominant that they can violate their users’ privacy without worrying about market pressure, all that’s left is the incentive to get more and more information about you. That’s a big problem if you care about privacy, and it’s a problem that the antitrust community should be talking about.“
The Location Privacy Act seeks to change the rules governing geolocation data gathering. Currently, it is legal for for companies to collect and disclose geolocation information on users without asking for permission or informing them it is doing so.
“I believe that Americans have the fundamental right to control who can track their location,” Franken said, “and whether or not that information can be given to third parties. But right now, companies – some legitimate, some sleazy – are collecting your or your child’s location and selling it to ad companies or who knows who else."
The current state of the law has led to the proliferation of what are called “stalker apps.” Wiretapping and other types of covert information gathering are illegal (or least when perpetrated by non-governmental agents), but use of stalker apps such as those offered by companies like Retina-X Studios is not. This act would correct that.
This bill will not only require user permission to gather and share location information but will also require companies to disclose what information has been and is being collected, and to inform users how to revoke consent later should they change their minds.
Beltway-focused publication The Hill said “the bill’s chances for passage this Congress look slim,” given the current focus on the “fiscal cliff.” However, given he has worked on it for the last year and a half, it seems likely Franken will re-introduce it next session if it doesn’t pass this time.
Franken’s interest in communications issues is a result of a pre-political professional lifetime spent as a comedian and actor. He serves as the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law.
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