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New York City considers banning the sale of mobile location data

With a lack of federal law to specifically protect consumers, a local bill proposes banning the practice of selling mobile users’ location data.

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The local bill will be reviewed by New York City mayor Bill de Blasio's office
The local bill will be reviewed by New York City mayor Bill de Blasio's office

New York City is considering whether to ban the selling of mobile users’ location data.

 

A bill introduced by Councilman Justin Brannan would prohibit telecommunications carriers and mobile applications from sharing a user’s location data with another person, if the location is within New York City.

 

It would also prohibit anyone who receives such location data from sharing it with another person.

 

Hefty penalties

 

If passed, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications would enforce the law.

 

A summary of the bill says that the penalty for violating this prohibition would be $1,000 per violation, with a maximum penalty of $10,000 per day per person whose location data was unlawfully shared.

 

According to a report in the New York Times, the bill would restrict mobile phone companies and mobile apps from sharing location data to situations where they were “providing a service explicitly requested” by the customer. It writes that “the language is designed to challenge the vague agreements customers click on when signing up for an app or a cellular service”.

 

“The average person has no idea they are vulnerable to this,” said Councilman Brannan. “We are concerned by the fact that someone can sign up for cell service and their data can wind up in the hands of five different companies.”

 

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office will review the bill but the New York Times reports that it is not yet clear whether it will pass the full council. Council speaker, Corey Johnson, said he was open to exploring solutions to the privacy issues addressed in the bill.

“We are concerned by the fact that someone can sign up for cell service and their data can wind up in the hands of five different companies”

In May the Federal Communications Commission sent letters to major phone companies asking for an update on their progress toward halting the sale of customers’ real-time location information. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon responded saying they will stop selling location data to brokers.

 

The New York City bill comes at a time when consumers are increasingly distrustful of third parties using and capitalising on their private data, but many feel powerless to affect change. In a consumer data privacy survey conducted for on-device artificial intelligence solutions provider, Anagog, two in three consumers said they are willing to dump data-collecting apps if the information collected is unrelated to the app’s function.

 

More than four fifths of all consumers (84 per cent) surveyed about their data privacy concerns in the study said they are aware the major internet companies are collecting their personal information and using it for their own benefit and/or selling it to third parties.

 

Meanwhile, a survey by Ipsos Mori on behalf of the Internet Society and Consumers International conducted in the US, Canada, Japan, Australia, France and the UK, found that two thirds of consumers think connected devices are "creepy" in the way they collect data about people and their behaviours and more than half (55 per cent) do not trust their connected devices to protect their privacy. More than half (53 per cent) also do not trust connected devices to handle their information responsibly.

 

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