GAO says FTC should develop guidelines for mobile location data handling

Franken urges action on bill requiring companies to get mobile users consent to collect, share data

The Government Accountability Office, in a recent report, recommended that the Federal Trade Commission develop comprehensive guidelines for how companies handle mobile location data.

The GAO report also recommended that the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration work with stakeholders to outline specific goals, milestones and performance measures for its process in developing industry codes of conduct for handling mobile location data.

In response to feedback from the agencies, the GAO backed off from a recommendation that the FTC include--in its mobile location data guidance--steps it would take to enforce a prohibition of unfair practices.

The government watchdog warned that the collection and sharing of location data by mobile companies poses privacy risks to mobile phone users.

Mobile phone users are generally unaware of how their location data is shared with and used by third parties, the GAO warned.

Companies in the mobile industry are ignoring best practices for location data collection developed by industry associations and privacy advocates, the government watchdog noted. These best practices include clearly disclosing to consumers that a company is collecting location data, as well as identifying third parties that companies share location data with.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who requested the study, said the report "clearly shows that mobile industry companies often fail to respect" the privacy rights of mobile users.

"The report makes a strong case that legislation is needed to better protect our privacy, and I've authored a bill to do just that. My Location Privacy Protection Act would require companies to get your permission before they get your location information or share it with third parties--a common sense solution to make sure that consumers' privacy is protected," he added.

So far, Franken's bill, which he introduced in June last year, has not made it out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

For more:
- check out the GAO report
- read Franken's statement

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