State seeks to be the first to legally block the sale of your location data

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State seeks to be the first to legally block the sale of your location data
The state of Massachusetts might become the first in the U.S. to pass legislation that would all but totally ban the buying and selling of location data from smartphones. The state legislature held hearings on a bill called the Location Shield Act that would seek to put a dent in the billion-dollar business that is part of mobile online advertising. The proposed law, according to The Wall Street Journal, would be enforced on location data taken from smartphones in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts seeks to be the first state to ban the buying and selling of smartphone location data


Besides protecting smartphone users in the state from having their location data bought and sold, the legislation would also require that law enforcement obtain a warrant in order to obtain the location data from a smartphone, and would also ban data brokers from providing location information about Massachusetts residents without a court order. The bill is typical of the action being taken by states since there is no national law that covers the buying and selling of location data.


Ten states have passed privacy laws under both Republican and Democratic legislatures and bipartisan proposals have been brought up for a national bill but so far not enough support for any of them has surfaced. No state has completely banned the buying and selling of location data with most states simply requiring that data brokers and other firms trafficking in location data get clear consent from consumers to obtain their data.

Location data is usually collected through mobile apps and even though it doesn't include names or phone numbers, movement patterns can be used to figure out the identity of the smartphone user. One way that this can be figured out is by tracking the location of a smartphone during the evening and overnight hours when a person is more likely to be home snuggled up to his charging smartphone. The collected data can be compared with information from other databases to hone in on the identity of the user.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Cindy Creem, a Democrat who is the majority leader of the Massachusetts state senate. She says, "I have every reason to be optimistic that something will be happening in this session." The legislative session will run through next year.

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Of course, opposition to the bill came from a trade association for the tech industry that said passing the bill would put Massachusetts out of step with other states. Andrew Kingman, a lawyer representing the State Privacy & Security Coalition, said, "The definition of sale is extremely broad." He did note that the tech industry would give consumers "the ability to opt-out of sale."

More local and state police are subscribing to get access to smartphone location data


Supporters of the bill worry that location data could be used to track people traveling out of state for an abortion. Others are concerned about being stalked online. The bill would still allow location data to be used to deliver rideshare service or weather information to consumers in the state. But the buying and selling of that data to other companies would not be allowed by the bill.

Almost three and a half years ago, the Journal reported that the Trump administration had purchased access to the location data from millions of phones to help the Department of Homeland Security with its immigration and border enforcement. And public records obtained last year by the Electronic Frontier Foundation discovered that location data is being purchased by state and local police departments.

One vendor who sells such data to the police says that he has access to the location of over 250 million mobile devices in the U.S. Smartphone owners who use weather apps, mobile gaming apps, and e-commerce apps often give permission for third-party companies to track their location data. Until legislation passes, giving permission to an app to receive something as innocent as hyper-local weather, for example, could end up with that person's location data in the hands of the police or some other organization that they would rather not give it to.

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