Massachusetts lawmakers are currently considering passing a law that would broadly restrict companies' ability to collect or harness mobile location data, and completely ban the sale of such data.
The Location Shield Act (H. 357, S. 148) would prohibit companies from gathering cell phone data that can identify users' location within a range of 1,850 feet, unless those companies both need the information in order to provide a service, and obtain consumers' opt-in consent. The bill also provides that companies collecting location data must allow people to opt out of the processing of that information for ad targeting.
Another provision of the proposed law would prohibit companies from selling (or renting, trading or leasing) location information.
If enacted, individuals would be able to sue for up to $5,000 per violation.
Eleven other states have enacted comprehensive privacy laws, while a 12th -- Washington -- recently enacted a health privacy law that bars companies from using location-tracking technology within 2,000 feet of a health care center in order to identify consumers, or to collect health data.
None of those state laws, however, completely ban the sale of location data.
Massachusetts Rep. Kate Lipper-Garabedian, who sponsored the bill in the House, expressed hope not only that the measure will pass, but that other states will follow suit.
“It would be really wonderful if Massachusetts could serve as an example to other states,” she tells Mobile Insider.
“At the end of the day, this should be a nonpartisan issue,” she adds. “Every person should care about their privacy.”
Like several other recent privacy proposals, the Massachusetts proposal is largely driven by the Supreme Court's 2022 decision overturning Roe v. Wade -- a ruling that paved the way for states to outlaw abortion. Since that decision came out, 20 states have restricted or banned abortions. Those moves have spurred concerns over whether residents of those states who travel for abortions could face legal consequences once they're back home.
The proposed law is supported by digital rights groups including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Electronic Privacy Information Center and American Civil Liberties Union.
“The location information market allows companies, individuals, and government actors to obtain detailed, comprehensive personal information about millions of people,” the ACLU Massachusetts said in written testimony. “Information is power, and purchasers of this powerful information can use it to infer extremely sensitive facts about people’s private lives and associations. Then they can weaponize that information to harm people, families, and communities.”
The group added: “It is only a matter of time before anti-abortion extremists use commercially available location data to go after abortion providers and their patients.”
The umbrella group State Privacy and Security Coalition -- whose members include the Association of National Advertisers, Amazon, Google, Meta and TikTok -- opposes the measure.
Andrew Kingman, former general counsel to the State Privacy and Security Coalition, testified at a hearing late last month that his organization supports the idea that companies should obtain express consent before collecting sensitive information, including precise location data.
But, he said, the group would like to see a law comparable to a Connecticut statute passed last year that requires companies to obtain people's opt-in consent before processing information about their race, religion, health condition, sexual orientation, biometrics and precise geolocation.