WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today Congressman Jamie Raskin (MD-08) and Congresswoman Katie Porter (CA-45), along with 42 of their Democratic colleagues, sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting new rulemaking to strengthen privacy protections for consumers’ location data.
“Currently, app developers are able to collect sensitive user information and sell it to interested parties for a substantial profit. Apps can harvest personal information, such as geolocation and phone identifiers, even after users denied permission for such sharing,” the lawmakers wrote. “We are concerned that the continued, unregulated commercialization of private geolocation data compromises the safety and privacy of consumers.”
The lawmakers continued, “In the past, both FTC and FCC punished bad actors for failing to safeguard location data, but the agencies fell short of establishing prophylactic rules that will better protect consumers…While we applaud the agencies’ commitments to consumer privacy and safety, it is clear that more needs to be done. To that end, we ask that your agencies take…steps to better protect the safety and privacy of consumers.”
An overwhelming majority of Americans are concerned about how their personal information is used by companies that collect their data. Location data is one of the most sensitive pieces of personal information harvested by smartphone apps, which is then sold to the multibillion-dollar location tracking industry. While many companies in the industry insist this information is “anonymous” and cannot be traced back to the individual user, privacy researchers have repeatedly debunked this claim. A 2019 investigation undertaken by the New York Times revealed how so-called “anonymous” location data could be easily deanonymized in a matter of minutes with the help of publicly-available information.
Specifically, the lawmakers urge the FTC to:
- Define the sale, transfer, use, or purchase of precise location data collected by an app for purposes other than the essential function of the app as an “unfair act or practice.”
- Define app developers’ mislabeling of users’ location data as “anonymous” as a “deceptive practice.”
- Enforce its regulations against companies abusing consumers’ location data through its penalty authority.
Additionally, the lawmakers urge the FCC to protect consumers’ geolocation information by reaffirming its prohibitions on the surveillance of location data through rulemaking.
Representatives Raskin and Porter were joined by Representatives Pete Aguilar, Sanford D. Bishop Jr., Earl Blumenauer, Suzanne Bonamici, Shontel Brown, Ed Case, Yvette D. Clarke, Jim Cooper, Danny K. Davis, Mark DeSaulnier, Jesús G. “Chuy” García, Al Green, Raul Grijalva, Pramila Jayapal, Henry C. “Hank” Johnson Jr., Mondaire Jones, Robin Kelly, Rick Larsen, Sheila Jackson Lee, Andy Levin, Ted Lieu, Alan Lowenthal, Stephen F. Lynch, Carolyn Maloney, Gregory W. Meeks, Grace Meng, Gwen Moore, , Eleanor Holmes Norton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Donald Payne Jr., Mark Pocan, Ayanna Pressley, Mary Gay Scanlon, Adam Schiff, Albio Sires, Jackie Speier, Mark Takano, Dina Titus, Rashida Tlaib, Norma Torres, David Trone, Marc Veasey.
The letter is supported by Accountable Tech, Center for Democracy & Technology, Center for Digital Democracy, Common Cause, Common Sense Media, Consumer Action, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Fairplay, Free Press Action Fund, Project on Government Oversight, Public Knowledge, U.S. Public Interest Research Group.
A copy of the full letter is available here.