The Year of the Mobile App — Senate Advances Geolocation Tracking Bill

By Jennifer Kashatus

As 2012 comes to a close, it seems like 2012 has been the year of the mobile app.  In 2012, we have seen numerous bills regarding privacy and data security as well as cybersecurity, but the one that actually is moving alone pertains to mobile apps.  On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved geolocation legislation (S. 1223), which, if enacted, would require companies to obtain a user’s affirmative consent before collecting or sharing their location information.  The Committee has sent the bill to the full Senate.

As currently drafted, companies would need to obtain express consent before tracking a user’s location and sharing that information with any nongovernmental entity.  The bill also would make it a crime to operate an application that facilitates location stalking.  Opponents of the bill are concerned that it will stifle innovation and harm the growing app industry.  To address industry concerns, in recent weeks, Sen. Franken, sponsor of the bill, clarified the scope of geolocation information, making it clear that contact information (e.g., name, address, IP address) do not qualify as geolocation information.

With little time remaining in the current Congress, it still seems like a long shot that the bill will make it to the floor for a vote.  Sen. Franken has stated that he will reintroduce the bill next term.

The movement of this geolocation bill, the FTC’s recent Report finding disclosure for mobile apps directed at children still not sufficient, and California’s emphasis on mobile apps make clear that mobile app providers — domestically and globally — will continue to remain in the spotlight and must be mindful of privacy considerations.