Franken Bill to Limit Sharing of Private GPS Tracking Data

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At some point, everyone who uses a GPS tracked device like a smartphone or iPod Touch has come in contact with the option of “location services” and the unease some people have with regard to their privacy. While the tracking app on such devices can be fun (checking in to a location of Facebook) or even helpful (GPS tracking your current location on Fandango for a nearby movie theater), the automatic constant recording and saving of the owner’s location and corresponding time there (cited most recently as an issue with Androids, iPhones, iPads, Windows Phone 7, car navigation systems, and various apps, etc.) is a point of concern for some legislators.


What’s the problem here?

Senator Al Franken, the congressman particularly associated with a 2011 bill on technology privacy, had attempted to get passed legislation that would require technology companies to make known to users what personal data is being stored, when, and how to rescind consent should individuals choose to opt out. As it stands, such private information is given to third party companies for purposes of marketing or corporate information research without the users’ knowing or permitting—a detail that Franken (and many other people) feels strongly violates users’ privacy. After the senator’s meeting with Apple and Google executives to discuss solutions to the problem, Apple designed updates to the software involved to allow users to turn off location GPS tracking and to significantly curb the volume of data being recorded.


Working to Find an Even Better Solution

The 2011 Franken bill (S. 1223) was not accepted in its original form. It closely resembled another contemporary bill which called for user data privacy from both law enforcement attainment and private sector companies, the only difference being the Franken bill government access to personal GPS tracking data. Supporters are hoping for congressional acceptance after some changes to the bill: 1) companies must ask for permission from the user and disclose what personal GPS data is being shared (with exception of government and law enforcement), 2) a one-time blanket option given for users to accept or disallow their data to be tracked instead of every time a company wants to access it, and 3) GPS stalking (as with an app) as a crime with serious penalties to be studied extensively and strongly addressed.

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Katharin Stephens

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