New Government Report Calls for Rules on Mobile Tracking

Consumers often unaware they are being tracked

A new report from the Government Accountability Office today is giving privacy advocates another opportunity to press for new laws that could potentially limit the promise of mobile advertising.

Consumers have flocked to location-based apps that provide services for everything from driving directions to finding the best pizza. Yet the GAO's report found that consumers were largely unaware that some mobile app developers and wireless carriers are also sharing or selling the data to third parties. The report also found that although industry associations and privacy advocates recommended guidelines for companies to follow, practices have not been consistently implemented.

Based on its findings, the GAO recommended that the government work with stakeholders to develop specific guidelines to protect consumer privacy and prevent companies from sharing their location information without consumers' permission.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on privacy, technology and the law, who has held a number of hearings on mobile privacy issues, requested the report.

"I believe Americans have a fundamental right to privacy: to know what information is being collected about them and to be able to control whether or not that information is shared with third parties. This report clearly shows that mobile industry companies often fail to respect that right, giving out consumers' location data without their knowledge or explicit consent," Franken said in a statement.

Franken co-sponsored with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) legislation that would require companies to obtain express consent from consumers before collecting location data or sharing it with third parties. A similar bill, the Mobile Device Privacy Act, was introduced on the House side by Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Tex.), co-chairs of the bi-partisan congressional privacy caucus.

With the election in full swing and Capitol Hill looking like a ghost town, there's little chance any new privacy bills will go further than press releases this year. Still, privacy issues are red hot and because they tend to be bipartisan, will carry over into the next Congress, no matter who wins the White House.