US senator: Use of location data not well-disclosed

A GAO report says that mobile carriers and app developers provide inconsistent and unclear information about their use of location data

Mobile carriers and app providers do not consistently or clearly disclose to customers how they use location information and other personal data, according to a new report from government auditor the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO report shows the need for legislation to address how carriers use location information, said Senator Al Franken, a Minnesota Democrat who asked for the study. Franken's Location Privacy Protection Act would require mobile carriers and app makers to get customer permission before collecting location information and before sharing it with other companies.

"I believe Americans have a fundamental right to privacy: to know what information is being collected about them and to be able to control whether or not that information is shared with third parties," Franken said in a statement. "And this report clearly shows that mobile industry companies often fail to respect that right, giving out consumers' location data without their knowledge or explicit consent."

Mobile customers can benefit from location-based services on smartphones, and mobile companies can use the data to increase advertising revenue and improve service, the GAO report said. And many mobile carriers and app providers have developed privacy policies. But they have "not consistently or clearly disclosed to consumers what the companies are doing with these data or which third parties they may share them with," the report added.

Privacy and industry groups have recommended location privacy practices, but those recommendations aren't consistently followed, the report said.

"We found that there aren't very many rules," Mark Goldstein, the GAO's director of physical infrastructure, said in a podcast about the report. "In many ways, this is still the Wild West of the electronic era. There's a lot of work that still needs to be done."

Representatives of the CTIA, a trade group representing mobile carriers, and the Association for Competitive Technology, a trade group representing mobile app developers, weren't immediately available for comment on the GAO report.

The report recommended that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission issue comprehensive guidance to mobile companies about location data privacy. The U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which launched a series of multistakeholder privacy meetings this year, has not set performance goals for the process and lacks a mechanism to enforce any privacy recommendations created in the process, the report said.

The GAO report's authors looked at the privacy practices of 14 mobile companies, with 11 of the 14 being carriers, operating-system developers or app developers. Ten of the 11 disclosed that they used customers' location data, but many policies were "not clear," the report said.

Four of the companies described ways they used personal data, but did not say whether they consider location data to be personal data, the report said.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Grant Gross

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Kurt Hegetschweiler

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

It’s perfect for mobile workers. Just take it out — it’s small enough to sit anywhere — turn it on, load a sheet of paper, and start printing.

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?