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US Senate Votes In Favour Of Location Privacy Bill

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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Senator Al Franken wants to put a stop to “stalker apps”

The US Senate Judiciary Committee has voted in favour of the location privacy bill proposed by Senator Al Franken from Minnesota that would require mobile app developers to ask for permission before they can use any location data originating from a smartphone.

The Location Privacy Protection Act was created in response to the popularity of so-called “stalker apps”, that can secretly track the location of a mobile device.

The bill is opposed by software companies that rely on location data to run their business.

I know where you live

Many popular apps already ask users for permission to use their data, but there is a whole category of widely available software that can secretly record and report movements of a smartphone or tablet user to a third party.

Navigation, GPS, WPS © glossyplastic Shutterstock 2012These are often advertised to suspicious spouses or worried parents, but can be used by literally anyone. Stalking and wiretapping is illegal in most parts of the world, so the users of these apps might be breaking the law by just installing them. However, both Google Play Store and iTunes currently host a selection of this type of software.

If the bill becomes law, it will make the companies liable for the “stalking” software they develop. The only exception is when parents install such apps on their child’s device.

“I believe that Americans have the fundamental right to control who can track their location, and whether or not that information can be given to third parties. But right now, companies—some legitimate, some sleazy—are collecting your or your child’s location and selling it to ad companies or who knows who else,” explained Franken.

Earlier this week, the US Federal Trade Commission published a report that revealed several popular apps designed for children were gathering information without any notification.

The bill was supported by both Republican and Democratic parties. However, some senators are worried it could have adverse effects on the development of apps that use location data for completely legitimate purposes. “I think the bill still needs a lot of work, particularly to assuage the concerns of technology innovators,” said Senator Chuck Schumer from New York.

“I’m going to vote for the bill today but I reserve the right to object to further movement unless and until some additional changes are made,” he added.

According to Franken, the bill will not be finalised until next year.

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