Location Data Hearings: Privacy on Parade

The congressional hearings on how user location data is stored on smartphones and used by carriers, vendors and third parties could reportedly lead to new mobile privacy legislation from Democratic Senator Al Franken.

The Minnesota senator asked for hearings after it emerged that both Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) store unencrypted location data on iPhones and Android devices, respectively. The fear is that it could be relatively easy for unsavory people and companies to gain access to a detailed record of a user's movements and whereabouts.

They say
“The whole thing for me is about striking the right balance,” Franken told the MinnPost. As such, he says he may craft new rules regarding three key areas of mobile location privacy:

  • Ensuring companies that collect data make a "good faith" attempt to store it securely
  • Informing users if and when their data is being used by third parties
  • Having Apple, Google and others ensure that their developers have privacy policies in place

As The Sydney Morning Herald notes, Apple and Google both say they are not using location data for nefarious purposes and that users feel the benefit of the technology through mapping capabilities and other localized content. "Apple does not track users' locations," Guy Tribble, the VP of software technology at the company, insisted at the hearing on Tuesday.

It emerged at the hearing that the U.S. Department of Justice , however, actually wants more access to user location data. “Under current law, communications providers may voluntarily disclose or sell any non-content data -- such as information about a user’s location -- for any reason without restriction to anyone other than state, local and federal government agencies,” DOJ Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein said at the hearings. Kashmir Hill at Forbes runs down why Weinstein wants operators to retain more data for law enforcement purposes in her online privacy-focused blog.

We say
Read more about the run-up to the hearings and mobile privacy below:

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile

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