If a bill being pushed by Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) becomes law, mobile apps will have to ask a smartphone user’s permission before they use any locational information. Many popular apps already do that, but Franken’s bill would make it a legal requirement.
The proposal passed an important hurdle today, as the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance the bill. Some commercial interests, including a major software group, have opposed the bill. So far committee Republicans have been receptive to their complaints.
However, today’s vote showed both Republicans and Democrats on the committee appear to be united on one issue—that so-called “stalker apps” need to be banned. The senior Republican on the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), said he supports the parts of the bill banning these apps, but is concerned about other parts of the bill, The Hill reported.
The lack of regulations outlawing these stalker apps has created opportunities for companies like Retina Software. That company offers a $50 “stealth phone spy software” called ePhoneTracker according to a report by The Associated Press on Franken’s bill (called the Location Privacy Protection Act). “Suspect your spouse is cheating?” asks Retina Software’s website. “Don’t break the bank by hiring a private investigator.”
Such apps can be secretly installed on cell phones and allow for surreptitious tracking. Stalking and wiretapping are already illegal, so it’s possible using such apps already violates the law in many circumstances. Franken’s proposal would make the companies who sell and operate such apps liable as well, however. An exception would exist for parents who install tracking apps on a child’s phone.
“I believe that Americans have the fundamental right to control who can track their location, and whether or not that information can be given to third parties,” Franken said today. “But right now, companies—some legitimate, some sleazy—are collecting your or your child’s location and selling it to ad companies or who knows who else. Passing my bill out of committee means we’re one step closer to ending this practice and ensuring people’s privacy.”
Given that the debate over the “fiscal cliff” is likely to overshadow everything else in December, it seems unlikely Franken’s bill will move forward before next year.