US Senate pushes for Geolocation privacy laws

A pair of US politicians has presented a bill which would force the likes of Apple and Google to explicitly ask permission before gather tracking data using mobile devices.

Apple caused an almighty stink recently when it was discovered that all of its GPS-equipped devices, including the ubiquitous iPhone, were gathering huge amounts of data using cellular tower geolocation.

The Mac maker was quick to insist that the tracking was down to a bug in its iOS mobile operating system, and that the data was so inaccurate that it couldn't be used for nefarious purposes, but still rushed out an update which limited the amount of crowd-sourced data gathered and stopped the data persisting when a new device was paired with iTunes.

In the wake if the scandal, European law-makers proposed draft legislation which suggested that all tracking data, no matter how inaccurate, should be considered private, and that mobile service providers should gain explicit permission in order to exploit this data.

According to The Hill, Democratic Party Senators Al Franken and Richard Blumenthal are now proposing similar legislation for the US.

“Geolocation technology gives us incredible benefits, but the same information that allows emergency responders to locate us when we're in trouble is not necessarily information all of us want to share with the rest of the world,” Franken said in a statement.

“This legislation would give people the right to know what geolocation data is being collected about them and ensure they give their consent before it’s shared with others,” he said.

If the proposed bill makes it onto the statute books it would force any firm which collects data from more than 5,000 devices - so not only Google and Apple but also app developers - to obtain expressed consent for the collection of that data. Companies would also be expected to 'take reasonable steps' to delete that data even if permission had been given in the first place.

Following reports that both Google and Apple were collection extraordinary amounts of location data from their respective devices, Franked wrote to both companies asking them to explain themselves. Both insisted that no user data had been shared without consent but the new law would make that process mandatory.

“This legislation is a strong step toward ensuring that consumers' geolocation information is protected from being collected and stored without their consent,” said Blumenthal, adding: “As smartphone technology continues to advance, it is vitally important that we keep pace with new developments to make sure consumer data is secure from being shared or sold without proper notification to consumers.”