GAO report: Wireless consumers don’t know how location data is shared

October 11, 2012

A study released Thursday by the Government Accountability Office suggests that the government could do more to protect consumer privacy when it comes to mobile device location data.


Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) (NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

The report, which was requested by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), concludes wireless companies are not fully explaining how they use location data culled from mobile phones.

Industry self-regulation practices, the report contends, are not strong enough to provide consumers with enough information about how data are collected and shared with third-party companies.

“Mobile industry companies we examined have inconsistently implemented these practices,” the report said, adding that in many cases disclosure policies are not enough to give users a way to provide “informed consent.”

The report recommends that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration work with stakeholders to develop more specific standards, timeframes and performance measures for policies on mobile location data.

It also suggests that the Federal Trade Commission consider issuing guidance for wireless firms on what “appropriate actions” they must take to protect these data.

Franken has sponsored a bill, the Location Privacy Protection Act, which would require any company looking to collect or share these data to get a consumer’s express consent to do so. It would also create criminal penalties for the “worst abusers” of location technology — identified as those who intentionally collect data in violation of anti-stalking and domestic violence laws.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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