Al Franken pitches bill to protect smartphone users' location privacy

Bill has a big flaw, and a advantage: it's one of the few efforts to hold back laissez faire on privacy.

More than half of Americans are concerned about the location data smartphone carriers and apps collect about them, according to a Nielsen Study that showed 52 percent of men and 59 percent of women fret over location privacy.

They should worry, according to privacy advocates, who warn that there are few regulations covering what data an app developer can collect, or limit what they should do with it.

A December, 2010 Wall Street Journal story revealed that, of the 101 leading apps for iPhones and Android smartphones, 47 sent the user's location to a third party without asking for consent first.

That increased tension among consumers that would get even worse if they heard that even the IT people at work say the company isn't handling location data or privacy concerns well.

Neither consumers nor corporations are doing much about it, though. Despite rising concerns, use of the phones and services that carry the highest threats to privacy continues to rise.

Al Franken, inventor of the Al Franken Decade and the only professional comedian in Congress (the others are funny by accident), is trying to do something about all that fretting about privacy by proposing legislation to limit location privacy risks by requiring apps, carriers and advertisers or partners that work with either one get consent from the user before collecting any data on individual location or behavior.

The Location Privacy Protection Act of 2011 (PDF) is designed to protect what Franken's announcement of the legislation said are 26,000 cases annually of people being stalked via GPS and cell phone and risks to both privacy and of identity theft.

The "narrowly focused" bill, as Franken's release described it, requires only that apps and third parties get consent to gather location data. It doesn't restrict what can be done with that data.

It also doesn't include government agencies among those who must ask for consent before using a smartphone to track someone.

Considering the number of times FBI and police investigations have prompted even more investigations forgathering location and other data without a warrant, and the rarity of sanctions for those faux pas, leaving government entities immune is a huge flaw.

Even with a big flaw Franken's bill is a huge advance over the nothing everyone else is doing about privacy.

On the other hand, all the players involved may be working hard on the issue and just not saying anything about it in public. Some people just prefer not to say anything, you know.

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