California Senator Introduces Bill to Protect Privacy of Mobile Device Users' GPS Data

A bill introduced in the California Senate last week is designed to help consumers make more informed decisions about their privacy when installing new smartphone or tablet apps that track their location using GPS. Senate Bill 576, authored by Senator Mark Leno, requires vendors to give consumers a clear notice explaining how their location information will be used and shared when they install a new app. It also stipulates that app users give express consent before their geolocation data can be collected and shared.

Senator Leno said, “Part of the genius of today’s mobile apps is their ability to pinpoint a person’s precise location, but that information shouldn’t be gathered or shared without the user’s knowledge and permission.”

While many companies have developed geolocation privacy disclosures, finding this information can differ greatly depending on the device. SB 576 would ensure that all operating systems and mobile apps have a clear and prominently placed disclosure, and would require consumers to affirmatively opt in to the collection and sharing of location data.

According to a study by Common Sense Media, the number of children who have access to smartphones and tablets doubled between 2011 and 2013, and the amount of time they spent using these smart devices tripled. A 2012 Federal Trade Commission report that collected data on mobile apps for children found that apps were sharing information (including geolocation data, device identification and phone numbers) with third parties without disclosing that fact to the smartphone or tablet user.

James P. Steyer, the CEO of Common Sense Media, said, "California continues to lead the way with common sense privacy legislation, particularly when it comes to protecting kids and families,” adding, “If an app wants to track your location — or wants to disclose your location to another party — it must get your permission first, and not be something buried within a long privacy policy. That’s why we are proud to support Senator Leno's legislation that stands up for Californians, especially kids and families.”

SB 576 will be heard in policy committees in the Senate this spring.

About the Author

Christopher Piehler is the former editor-in-chief of THE Journal.