Massachusetts proposes ban on the sale of cell phone location data
Clicking “I Agree” on all the app and website Terms and Conditions allows companies to enjoy much freedom about data and often includes the ability to sell data such as your location history on your device. A recent bill on privacy and data protection proposed by Massachusetts legislators could result in a complete ban on purchasing and selling users’ information about their mobile device’s location. If passed, H.357/ S.148(also known as the ” Location Shield Act“) could be the first-of-its-kind legislation in the US and serve as an example for other states to follow. The law is amidst growing concern about the privacy of medical information, online harassment, and police surveillance.
Massachusetts House Rep. Cindy Stone Creem drafted the Act. The Location Shield Act safeguards “reproductive health access, LGBTQ lives, religious liberty, and freedom of movement by banning the sale of cell phone location information.” In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade in 2000, privacy and women’s rights advocates have repeatedly called for establishing legal safeguards for consumers’ geolocation information.
[Related: Police pay AI to analyze body camera audio for professionalism. ]
While several states, including California, Virginia, and Colorado, have adopted or proposed comparable privacy regulations and laws, this Location Shield Act is the first US state law that claims to provide wholesale protection from buying the geo-information of third-party entities. Contrary to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), no US federal law currently safeguards the privacy of all Americans and their personal data.
The article in the Wall Street Journal reported this morning that location information is usually obtained through mobile apps, websites, and other services. While this data doesn’t include the names of people or phone numbers, there is enough information from this data to assist in determining the location of one’s home or work location or travel patterns.
For example, aiding those unable to travel within the state of origin for medical abortions, now legally nebulous in certain conditions, could be accessed through the geolocation information of a mobile device. An earlier investigation by The Washington Post also revealed that the Department of Homeland Security had purchased millions of phones’ worth of data on movement to conduct the warrantless monitoring of the population near the US border to stop illegal immigration.
(Related to Meta could protect users from messages about abortion whenever they want, according to advocates. ]
The Location Shield Act would make these practices illegal in many instances. Customers could still use location-related apps like Uber and DoorDash However; those firms would not be permitted to sell their data to interested parties. However, the data could be obtained by third parties, including law enforcement agencies, only after receiving the consumer’s consent. As per the ACLU, nearly 90% of Massachusetts residents support a bill prohibiting selling mobile device location information.
Many supporters, including the privacy group Fight for the Future, believe that the bill can be put to a vote during the phase of the Massachusetts legislative session that is scheduled to last through the end of the end of next year.
“Whether you’re going to a doctor’s office, place of worship, or anywhere else, your movements should be private,” Caitlin Seeley, George, Fight for the Future’s campaigns director and managing director, informs The Pop Science. “This bill looks at the big picture–privacy rights have to be included in the conversation about abortion rights, trans rights, and in fighting for the rights of all targeted groups.”