Ban on sales of cellular location data could break important privacy precedent in US

Posted:
in General Discussion

Buying and selling mobile phone location data is rampant, and it has spawned a billion-dollar industry, but legislatures in Massachusetts are looking for a near-total ban on the practice.

Location Services settings in iOS
Location Services settings in iOS



Selling location data harvested from personal devices like iPhones happens in various ways, but it's mainly done through third-party apps. In 2022, for example, a self-described "family-safety platform" called Life360 stopped selling precise location data after it was discovered they sold that information to brokers.

To help keep its residents' digital privacy secure, lawmakers in Massachusetts are moving forward with what would ultimately become an outright ban on buying and selling location data gathered from consumers' mobile devices. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, this would be a first-of-its-kind move from lawmakers in any state up to this point, as other states usually only go as far as requiring apps and services to gain consent regarding data collection.

The new bill, called the Location Shield Act, would also require a warrant for law enforcement to access location data from a mobile device. With this in the bill, data brokers cannot provide location data to agencies without court authorization ahead of time in "most circumstances."

The bill is seeing a lot of support within Massachusetts, and it's backed by Senator Cindy Creem, who said, "I have every reason to be optimistic that something will be happening in this session."

Massachusetts' state legislative session will run through next year, so it may take some time before this bill actually bears any fruit.

Unsurprisingly, a trade association representing "the technology industry" opposed the bill. Andrew Kingman, a lawyer representing the State Privacy & Security Coalition, who is also opposing the bill, said, "We do support heightened protections for particular types of personal information," and said that the term sale is "extremely broad."

Kingman said the industry would support allowing consumers to "opt-out of sale" of their device's location data. However, privacy activists would prefer an opt-in option, or in the case of the legislature, no option at all to collect such sensitive data.

It's possible to see which apps are accessing your location data, right from the Settings app. This is a quick and easy way to double-check which apps you've permitted to use location data.

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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 6
    chasmchasm Posts: 3,415member
    Should this bill become law -- and I certainly hope it does -- be sure to lobby your own local legislators about this. It doesn't hobble legit law enforcement uses, but restores a freedom very much lost to Americans -- the right of privacy with regards to your moment-by-moment location. If anything in the US can be truly a bipartisan issue, it should be this.
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 6
    Hopefully, this also applies to the network providers as well...
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 6
    Huh? How can this "break" a precedent? Set one, but hardly break one.
    williamlondonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 6
    I don’t necessarily want to block an app from using my location. They use that location data to provide a servie.  I just want to block that app from selling my location to others. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 6
    Trawl through Settings and turn off Precise Location for everything but stuff like navigation that does need to know exactly where you are. Turn it off completely for most apps.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 6
    22july201322july2013 Posts: 3,638member
    Big companies like Google or Meta will be less affected by this law since the law doesn't prevent data from being moved around inside a single company. Small companies will be hurt. 

    If Meta buys 10% of a smaller company, would the small company now be allowed to "sell data to Meta" since meta now owns 10% of the company?

    And who is the original owner of the user's location data? The carrier, or the hardware manufacturer, or the operating system manufacturer of the phone?
    edited July 2023
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