U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law, today announced the release of a new report he requested from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) that shows wireless companies are not providing consumers enough information about how they use and share their private location data, and says that federal action would likely help address this problem.
The report confirmed that some mobile app developers and wireless carriers share or sell large amounts of their customers' location data with third parties. The GAO found that while consumers may be aware that mobile industry companies obtain their location information, they are largely unaware that this information is subsequently given to third parties and are also unaware of how these third parties use that data. The GAO explained that while location data can be used to provide valuable consumer services and to provide targeted advertising, the misuse of this data can result in clear privacy risks, including consumer profiling, identity theft, and stalking.
"I believe Americans have a fundamental right to privacy: to know what information is being collected about them and to be able to control whether or not that information is shared with third parties," said Sen. Franken. "And this report clearly shows that mobile industry companies often fail to respect that right, giving out consumers' location data without their knowledge or explicit consent. The report makes a strong case that legislation is needed to better protect our privacy-and I've authored a bill to do just that. My Location Privacy Protection Act would require companies to get your permission before they get your location information or share it with third parties-a commonsense solution to make sure that consumers' privacy is protected."
Sen. Franken requested the report after he convened a hearing on protecting mobile privacy in May 2011, during which experts testified about the benefits and dangers of using location data. The Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women submitted written testimony for the hearing, which outlined the threats posed to domestic violence victims who use mobile devices that can be manipulated to track their locations. Senator Franken subsequently led a bipartisan group of Senators to request that the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice investigate so-called "stalking apps," smartphone apps that are specifically designed and openly marketed to help abusers stalk their intimate partners.
Protecting Minnesotans' and Americans' consumer rights and privacy has been a priority for Sen. Franken since he came to the Senate. In addition to his May 2011 hearing, Sen. Franken has also held hearings on protecting health privacy data and facial recognition technology, and has repeatedly pressed companies to improve their standards for protecting consumer privacy. Sen. Franken has also called on the Department of Justice and other federal agencies to better their oversight of the use and sharing of private data.