Swedish regulators look at handling of mobile location data

Location information can be very sensitive to subscribers, telecom regulator PTS said

The sale of location information from mobile operators to service providers could result in privacy issues, and needs to be investigated, two Swedish regulators said on Tuesday.

The Swedish Post and Telecom Agency (PTS) and the Swedish Data Inspection Board, whose task is to protect individuals' privacy in the information society, have joined forces to ensure that personal privacy is respected by location-based services.

"Location information can be very sensitive to subscribers. That's why we've decided to take a closer look at this area," said Staffan Lindmark, a legal adviser at PTS.

The project will also take a look at how other subscriber data, including phone numbers, is handled.

PTS has now sent a questionnaire to operators asking what kind of information is transferred from operators to service providers, how the information is protected and how they have obtained permission to use it from subscribers, according to Lindmark.

The two regulators will start analyzing the replies this fall, and plan to publish a report by the end of October, Lindmark said.

It makes sense for regulators to take a look how location information is handled, because of the fast growth of the segment and the sensitivity of the information, according to Jonathan Arber, senior research analyst at IDC.

However, he doesn't believe regulation will be necessary. Regulators taking a look at how data is handled could also improve consumer confidence, and could also prove to be a boon to location based services, Arber said.

This isn't just an issue for Swedish regulators, but something that other countries need to keep an eye on as well, according to Paolo Pescatore, analyst at CCS Insight.

"We are still an early stage of the market, but operators are already sitting on a wealth of data about its users," said Pescatore.

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