Ad Group: Privacy Bill Could Target More Than ‘Stalker Apps’

Sen. Al Franken says his new bill targeting apps that allow GPS tracking of mobile users will protect victims of domestic abuse. But leading ad industry figures say its broad scope will bring unintended consequences.

A Senate bill designed to protect victims of a 21st-century form of stalking could do a lot more than that.

That’s according to critics of the Location Privacy Protection Act of 2014, a proposal sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology, and the Law. More details:

About the bill: The legislation, cosponsored by Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), targets the provision of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act that allows companies to track consumers’ mobile GPS data without informing them. “This loophole is misused by popular companies—and abused by stalkers,” Franken wrote in a summary of the bill. The measure would require companies to get permission from customers before collecting location data; those that track more than 1,000 users would be required to post information about why they’re collecting the data and how customers can opt out of data collection. The bill would ban the use or development of apps designed for stalking. A version of the bill introduced in 2011 got the approval of the Senate Judiciary Committee in December 2012 but didn’t make it through Congress. Some Congress watchers believe that the additional attention to digital privacy issues due to the NSA data collection scandal could help push the bill further this time around.

Fully addressing the problem? Speaking during a subcommittee hearing on Franken’s bill last week, Robert D. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, questioned whether the act would achieve its goals and warned of unintended consequences. “Domestic violence, stalking, and harassment are serious issues, and ITIF applauds the committee’s efforts to address this ongoing concern. Unfortunately, the provisions in the proposed legislation, while helping with the problem, will likely not be sufficient to fully address it, may interfere with legitimate tracking applications, and could require changes in mobile operating systems,” Atkinson said, according to his prepared remarks.

Hurting “legitimate uses”: The Interactive Advertising Bureau, meanwhile, suggested that the bill’s broad scope could threaten the mobile advertising industry, which relies on geographic data. “The misappropriation of a user’s data for criminal activity is distinctly different from the legitimate commercial practices that consumers have come to expect and value; and, is responsible for much of the free or low-cost digital services and applications we enjoy today,” IAB said in a statement to National Journal.

Advocacy groups supporting domestic violence victims say concerns about the bill’s broad scope are unfounded. They point to location privacy efforts by mobile firms such as Verizon, Google, Apple, and Facebook, as well as the Application Developers Alliance, a trade group for mobile developers.

“The Location Privacy Protection Act of 2014 will narrowly impact a handful of bad actors that design or operate products created and sold to facilitate terrifying crimes,” said Cindy Southworth, vice president for development and innovation at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, during last week’s subcommittee hearing [PDF].

Sen. Al Franken, the main sponsor of the Location Privacy Protection Act of 2014. (Handout photo)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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