Senators introduce location privacy bill

Sens. Al Franken (D-Minn.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) unveiled a bill Wednesday that would require firms such as Apple and Google along with app developers to obtain consent before collecting or sharing consumers' location data. 

“Geolocation technology gives us incredible benefits, but the same information that allows emergency responders to locate us when we're in trouble is not necessarily information all of us want to share with the rest of the world,” Franken said in a statement citing concerns from anti-domestic violence groups about the potential for abuse of the data.

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“This legislation would give people the right to know what geolocation data is being collected about them and ensure they give their consent before it’s shared with others,” he said.

The bill would require firms to get customers' expressed consent before collecting location data from their smartphones or mobile devices. Any firm that obtains location data from more than 5,000 mobile devices must take reasonable steps to protect and delete that data if requested by the customer.

Franken raised the issue at his first hearing as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Privacy subpanel last month, where he pressed representatives from Apple and Google on reports their smartphone platforms were storing and transmitting user location data. Both firms denied tracking consumers.

Franken subsequently wrote to both firms asking them to require clear privacy policies from all apps sold for their platforms. Both firms have said no user information is shared without their consent, but Franken's legislation would make that pledge mandatory.

The Justice Department would likely be in charge of enforcement.

“This legislation is a strong step toward ensuring that consumers' geolocation information is protected from being collected and stored without their consent,” Blumenthal said.

“As smartphone technology continues to advance, it is vitally important that we keep pace with new developments to make sure consumer data is secure from being shared or sold without proper notification to consumers,” he added.

Supporters of the legislation include the Center for Democracy and Technology, Consumers Union and groups representing women and victims of crimes. Consumer privacy has been a hot topic on the Hill lately thanks to a number of reports of privacy breaches involving prominent tech firms.