Senate Panel Approves Location-Privacy Bill

For the second time in as many months, the Senate Judiciary Committee has cleared a bill that aims to give people new privacy protections in their digital data.

On Thursday, the panel approved a location-privacy bill proposed by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), which would require that app developers obtain users' opt-in consent before collecting or disclosing their geolocation data. Late last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved revamping the Electronic Communications Privacy Act to require that law enforcement authorities obtain search warrants before accessing people's emails or other data stored in the cloud.

The measure approved yesterday would prohibit companies from tracking individuals via mobile phones without explicit consent. Also, the bill would require apps or software to remind users that they are being tracked and enable them to stop that.

Franken touts the law as a means to protect people from cyberstalking apps. But that wouldn't be the bill's only impact: It also could hinder companies from scooping up location data for marketing purposes, without users' express permission.

Franken says that revelations in the last two years demonstrate that the law is needed. "Companies that collect our location information are not protecting it the way they should," he stated in prepared remarks.

The lawmaker referenced reports from last year stating that iPhones and Androids were sending users' location data to Apple and Google. He also noted the Carrier IQ debacle; that company became infamous last year, after a researcher showed that its software could log keystrokes on mobile devices.

And Franken took note of the Federal Trade Commission's report this week on mobile apps for kids, which found that a significant proportion of apps were transmitting geolocation data to outside parties.

The Hill reports that the measure isn't likely to pass this year, but says that Franken likely will forge ahead with the bill next year.

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