Lawmakers in Washington have turned their sights on mobile device tracking, proposing legislation aimed at making it much harder for companies to track you without consent.
The Mobile Device Privacy Act (PDF) makes it illegal for companies to monitor device users without their expressed consent. The bill was introduced Thursday by Massachusetts Democrat Representative Edward Markey, co-Chair of the Bi-Partisan Congressional Privacy Caucus. Much of the impetus for the bill came from last year’s Carrier IQ debacle.
Late last year, Carrier IQ’s software was found to exist on both iOS and Android devices on AT&T and Sprint’s networks. While the company denied any wrongdoing, the software captured keystrokes and sent the details of your device usage back to the carriers. That news set off a firestorm of criticism, including the attention of Senator Al Franken, who grilled the company and received some details on Carrier IQ’s intentions.Consumers have a right to know
“Consumers should know and have the choice to say no to software on their mobile devices that is transmitting their personal and sensitive information,” Markey argues. “This legislation will provide greater transparency into the transmission of consumers’ personal information and empower consumers to say no to such transmission.”
If passed, the legislation would require the disclosure of including tracking software at the time of the purchase of the phone, or during ownership if a software update or app would add such software to the device, and the consumer gains the right to refuse to be tracked. This disclosure must include what types of information is collected, who it is transmitted to, and how it will be used.
The data collectors would also be required to inform the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission of their tracking activities, and either agency would have enforcement powers to ensure compliance with the new law.Not everybody’s happy
Obviously, the industry isn’t too excited about this. Software & Information Industry Association public policy chief Mark MacCarthy called it the “wrong way to go,” claiming the legislation would stifle innovation. He also argues that self-regulation works, and legislation like this only harbors consumer distrust.
“In the absence of government mandates, and industry codes of conduct, consumers are doing some sensible things to protect themselves,” MacCarthy says. “But the lack of consumer trust is troubling and can only inhibit growth in the market. If consumers just say no, the whole industry suffers.”
While MacCarthy may have a point in the fact that many consumers are indeed protecting themselves, his claims of self-regulation being the answer fall flat. The self-regulation shtick is a common one used by the corporate world in an attempt to avoid the watchful eye of government entities. While it does work in some cases, in many it does not.
There is an absence of control here in the mobile tracking space. What company in their right mind would disclose the fact that they’re tracking you on their own? Not many. In the least, there needs to be some rules in the books on disclosure. Other industries are disclosing their efforts, and so far I haven’t seen much in the way of “suffering.”
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