A bill introduced in the California Senate by Senator Mark Leno is designed to help consumers make more informed decisions about their privacy when installing new smartphone or tablet apps that track their location using GPS. Senate Bill 576 requires vendors to give consumers a clear notice explaining how their location information will be used and shared when they install a new app. It also requires that app users give express consent before their geolocation data can be collected and shared.
In a press release discussing the bill, Senator Leno explained that “[p]art of the genius of today’s mobile apps is their ability to pinpoint a person’s precise location, but that information shouldn’t be gathered or shared without the user’s knowledge and permission.” He further stated that “[t]his legislation ensures that consumers know their data is being collected, and how it is being used, so they can then make informed decisions to protect their privacy.”
The press release cites to several studies and reports related to the growing use of smartphones and tablets as well as consumer concern about the sharing of geolocation data, which the bill defines as information that can be used to identify the physical location of an electronic device or its user. One study conducted by Common Sense Media found that the number of children who have access to smartphones and tablets doubled between 2011 and 2013, and the amount of time they spent using these smart devices tripled. Additionally, a 2012 Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) report that collected data on mobile apps for children found that apps were sharing information, including geolocation data, device identification and phone numbers, with third parties without disclosing that fact to the smartphone or tablet user.
However, despite widespread collection and sharing of geolocation data by apps, a 2013 FTC report on mobile privacy revealed that few consumers know or understand how information is being collected from their mobile devices, and most are surprised to know these data are also being shared with third parties such as advertisers. Moreover, according to a 2015 report by the TRUSTe company, 78% of American consumers are concerned that smart devices are revealing their location without their knowledge.
While many companies have developed geolocation privacy disclosures, finding and accessing this information can differ greatly depending on which digital device a consumer owns. SB 576 is aimed at ensuring that all operating systems and mobile apps have a clear and prominently placed disclosure to users and require consumers to affirmatively opt-in to the collection and sharing of location data.