Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) plans to re-introduce a bill intended to limit the use of geolocation data obtained from consumer smartphones and car navigation systems. 

The Location Privacy Protection Act, which was first introduced in 2011, would require a user’s express authorization to collect, receive, record, obtain, or disclose to a non-governmental individual or entity any geolocation information from an electronic communication device.   Users could only authorize such activities after being given clear and prominent notice, “separate and apart from any final end user agreement, privacy policy, terms of use page, or similar document,” about the information to be collected and the entities to which it may be disclosed.

The bill advanced out of committee in December 2012, but did not receive a full vote.  Franken’s renewed push to advance the legislation comes in the wake of his calls for Ford to explain its practices about gathering GPS data.   Last month, Franken wrote to Ford with a list of questions, including how the company gathers GPS data from cars, who it shares the data with, and how it obtains a customer’s consent to collect that data.  Ford’s response emphasized that the company obtains a consumer’s consent to enroll in each service that collects their geo-location information, and that the company does not sell such data.     

The Location Privacy Protection Act would apply to a range of businesses that interact with a customer’s geolocation information.  It defines geolocation information as information “concerning the location of an electronic communications device that is in whole or in part generated by or derived from the operation or use of the electronic communications device; and  . . that may be used to identify or approximate the location of the electronic communications device or the individual that is using the device.”   It would not apply to IP addresses.  

Franken’s bill would allow enforcement by the Attorney General, state Attorneys General, and private citizens.  Separate penalties target companies that sell geolocation information of children under 11 years old, or that provide geolocation information knowing it will be used for domestic violence or stalking.  

A report by the Government Accountability Office, which was commissioned by Franken, found that 9 of the 10 companies it surveyed about in-car location services used “broadly worded” explanations to customers about their data collection practices which could allow for broad use of data than consumers intend.