Congress, Privacy, and Marketing to Your Geolocation

March 2, 2010
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Location-based technologies include GPS for mobile devices and new technology in the browsing interface that tracks location using a range of technology including nearby wireless access points and IP address information. A web browser’s geolocation information is associated with HTML 5, the in-draft collection of advancements over current HTML which is being developed by a group called WHATWG. Location-based technologies can be used to target users in terms of location and advertisements through web browsers and applications.

According to the Communications Act of 1934 (yes 1934), the cell phone carriers cannot use the location-based information. However, cell phone companies do not necessarily see location-based information since the information is constrained to the web browser or application on the mobile device. Many applications using location-based technology that benefit the user are being developed and implemented, including social tools such as foursquare. However, the location information associated with these applications could be abused and used for advertisements. According to Guardian

Location-based technologies include GPS for mobile devices and new technology in the browsing interface that tracks location using a range of technology including nearby wireless access points and IP address information. A web browser’s geolocation information is associated with HTML 5, the in-draft collection of advancements over current HTML which is being developed by a group called WHATWG. Location-based technologies can be used to target users in terms of location and advertisements through web browsers and applications.

According to the Communications Act of 1934 (yes 1934), the cell phone carriers cannot use the location-based information. However, cell phone companies do not necessarily see location-based information since the information is constrained to the web browser or application on the mobile device. Many applications using location-based technology that benefit the user are being developed and implemented, including social tools such as foursquare. However, the location information associated with these applications could be abused and used for advertisements. According to Guardian, Apple is prohibiting mobile application developers from implementing ads via location information. How closely this is regulated is another story.

According to Clickz, the congressional hearing on February 24th touched on many points, including the main argument that location-based technologies need to be regulated and will be booming this year. During the congressional hearing, it was mentioned by representatives of firms providing location-based data services that ads using the location data for targeting result in higher click-through rates and more revenue. This may be true, but user privacy needs to be taken into consideration. Witnesses at the congressional hearing agreed that location-based mobile data needs to be controlled by privacy legislation.

Essentially, there were no concrete plans for enforcing privacy rules regarding location-based data during the congressional hearing. One solution touched on is providing consumers with a “notice and consent” method. This solution will provide consumers with a clear non-deceptive method of selecting that they will want to give geolocation information. There is no dedicated government body at this time to oversee the compliance of future privacy legislation. However, there has been indications in previous congressional hearings that the FTC could play a crucial role in enforcement.

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