Mobile phones and tablets have exploded in popularity in recent years, and all evidence indicates that this trend will continue. Smartphone sales are expected to eclipse those of desktop and laptop computers combined in the next two years.
However, mobile devices store and transmit a particularly personal set of data. These devices typically allow third parties to access personal information such as contact lists, pictures, browsing history, and identifying information more readily than in traditional internet web browsing. The devices also use and transmit information consumer’s precise geolocation information as consumers travel from place to place.
At the same time, consumers have less control over their information on mobile devices than through traditional web browsing. While third parties, like ad networks, usually must use ―cookies to track users on the web, they often get access to unique — and unchangeable — unique device identifiers in the mobile space.
While cookies can be deleted by savvy users, device identifiers are permanent, meaning data shared about your device can always be correlated with that device. As is the case with most consumer data, information generated by mobile devices is for the most part not protected by current law and may be collected and shared without users’ knowledge or consent.
Mobile devices and the services they enable provide consumers with great benefit. But it is imperative that Congress provide a clear policy framework to protect users’ privacy and trust. CDT strongly supports privacy legislation that implements the full range of Fair Information Practice Principles (FIPPs) across all consumer data and provides enhanced protections for sensitive information, such as precise geolocation, including enhanced, affirmative opt-in consent. Unfortunately, today’s legal protections fall far short.
A number of laws aim to protect electronic communications, including location information. Unfortunately, technology has far outpaced these statutory protections in both the commercial and government contexts. An update is long overdue.