Jessica Rich, head of the FTC's consumer protection bureau, testified at a Senate hearing on Wednesday that the agency supports the goals of the Location Privacy Protection Act, which was introduced by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) The bill provides that app developers and others get people's opt-in consent before collecting or sharing location data from smartphones, tablets, or in-car navigation systems.
Rich said in a written version of her testimony that the collection and use of geolocation information raises privacy concerns. “Geolocation information can divulge intimately personal details about an individual. Did you visit an AIDS clinic last Tuesday? What place of worship do you attend? ... Businesses can use consumers’ geolocation information to build profiles of a customer’s activities over time and may put the information to unanticipated uses.”
Rich said the bill marks “an important step forward in protecting consumers’ sensitive geolocation information.”
Not everyone agrees. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation testified that self-regulation is preferable to legislation.
“While notification and consent to use geo-location data is appropriate for mobile apps today, it may not be so for other types of platforms in the future. For example, the use of geo-location information may be so integral to the purpose and functioning of a particular device that mandatory disclosures and consent requirements would be superfluous,” Robert Atkinson, the think tank's president and founder, said in his written testimony.
He also questioned whether the commercial use of location data poses a risk to consumers. “Companies collecting and using the data have strong incentives to not harm consumers, either directly or indirectly, since doing so would badly damage both their reputations and commercial prospects,” he said.