Everyone is Jumping into the Location-Based Tracking Privacy Debate
Recently, we learned that Apple may track users’ location in hidden files on iPhones and iPads. Google and Microsoft may be doing something similar. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, recently introduced a Bill called the Electronic Communications Privacy Act Amendments of 2011 [.pdf] that would amend the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. The legislation would require the government to obtain a search warrant or court order when seeking the disclosure of information stored, held, or maintained by providers of mobile services, cloud computing services, and geolocation services. Currently, depending on the Court [.pdf] involved, probable cause may or may not be necessary to obtain geolocation information. Under the proposed amendment, the government will be able to obtain historical geolocation information without probable cause.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have now joined the debate. The FCC and FTC are hosting a forum [.pdf] related to location-based services (LBS) on June 28, 2011 to discuss the pros and cons of LBS. The forum is intended to help promote better privacy protections by companies who collect geolocation data.
There are those that think geolocation tracking will revolutionize the consumer service industry. Geolocation technology has been in development for more than 10 years. The technology is already used in many industries (e.g., e-retail, banking, travel, online games, etc.). Geolocation tracking can be a positive for consumers — enabling companies to offer information relevant to the user’s location. However, many people are concerned that this type type of information will be misused and mishandled.
“Do Not Track” bills have already been introduced in the House and the Senate. The Do-Not Track On-line Act of 2011 [.pdf] is aimed at allowing individuals to opt-out of having certain mobile online activities tracked. The Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011 would amend the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act [.pdf], which we discussed here, to stop the tracking of children on the internet without parental consent.
There seems to be a lot of momentum for increased privacy legislation in 2011, but will the regulators ever be able to keep up with rapid advancements in technology?