October 13, 2012
GAO Report Looks At Privacy In Wireless Location Information
The Govermemnt Accountability Office has released a report called Mobile Device Location Data: Additional Federal Actions Could Help Protect Consumer Privacy. Here's a bit from the summary of what the GAO found:
Using several methods of varying precision, mobile industry companies collect location data and use or share that data to provide users with location-based services, offer improved services, and increase revenue through targeted advertising. Location-based services provide consumers access to applications such as real-time navigation aids, access to free or reduced-cost mobile applications, and faster response from emergency services, among other potential benefits. However, the collection and sharing of location data also pose privacy risks. Specifically, privacy advocates said that consumers: (1) are generally unaware of how their location data are shared with and used by third parties; (2) could be subject to increased surveillance when location data are shared with law enforcement; and (3) could be at higher risk of identity theft or threats to personal safety when companies retain location data for long periods or share data with third parties that do not adequately protect them.
Industry associations and privacy advocates have developed recommended practices for companies to protect consumers’ privacy while using mobile location data, but companies have not consistently implemented such practices. Recommended practices include clearly disclosing to consumers that a company is collecting location data and how it will use them, as well as identifying third parties that companies share location data with and the reasons for doing so. Companies GAO examined disclosed in their privacy policies that the companies were collecting consumers’ location data, but did not clearly state how the companies were using these data or what third parties they may share them with. For example, some companies’ policies stated they collected location data and listed uses for personal information, but did not state clearly whether companies considered location to be personal information. Furthermore, although policies stated that companies shared location data with third parties, they were sometimes vague about which types of companies these were and why they were sharing the data. Lacking clear information, consumers faced with making a decision about whether to allow companies to collect, use, and share data on their location would be unable to effectively judge whether the uses of their location data might violate their privacy.