Why the Location Privacy Protection Act is a commonsense consumer protection

chisbealsBy Christopher Beal, Public Policy Intern

With the seemingly ceaseless increase in the number of mobile internet devices finding their way into the hands (and pockets) of consumers, geolocation data (broadly, any information that can be used to identify the location of a person using a device) is becoming ever easier to collect and transmit without consumer awareness or consent. As such, a cohesive set of protections affording consumers with control and knowledge as to the collection and sharing of their sensitive private data is long overdue. The Location Privacy Protection Act of 2014 (“LPPA”) promises to do just that. Accordingly, NCL is pleased to offer its support for this legislation.

It doesn’t take much of a search to uncover that industry standards and established governmental protections are ineffective or easily circumvented. Many of the currently applicable laws were drafted in a time prior to the prevalence of internet-enabled cellphones and other mobile devices and, as such, don’t speak to the practice of sharing (or selling) geolocation data with commercial entities. As a result, companies can collect information which in any other context would be deemed irrefutably private (for example, visiting a therapist or going to a church) and share or sell that information to other companies (including advertisers). And beyond that, recent history shows that some companies participate in practices like this despite their privacy policy stating otherwise (for example, in May 2014 the FTC settled an enforcement action with Snapchat over their collecting geolocation data in contradiction of their privacy policy).

The LPPA requires that companies alert consumers to the act of geolocation collection and sharing, and to require individual consent before either may occur (with reasonable exceptions for emergencies, parental supervision of children, and the like). It also requires that companies in the practice of collecting geolocation data must disclose the kinds of data collected, the ways in which it is shared and used, and companies must tell consumers how they can stop this collection or sharing. The LPPA also has provisions targeting the practice of GPS stalking and of the collection of geolocation data without a user’s knowledge.

NCL — along with many other privacy and consumer groups and the FTC — supports a comprehensive privacy protection law that encompasses all consumer data. Absent such a law, consumers deserve to at least have their most sensitive data, such as location information — protected. On Wednesday, June 4, NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg will be testifying before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law in support of the LPPA. To watch the hearing live, click here.