WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday signed off on a technology privacy bill introduced by Sen. Al Franken while also acknowledging it won’t see final Senate passage until sometime next year.
The bill bans cellular apps specifically designed and marketed to track an individual’s location (so-called “stalking apps”) and requires apps that gather location data to get user permission before they share it with third parties. The bill was approved with bipartisan support, though members of both parties said it would need to be modified before it moves forward, effectively delaying action until sometime during the next Congress.
Earlier this week, Franken said he expects to move the legislation beyond the committee phase sometime next year.
Franken told the committee that his bill was especially pressing given a Federal Trade Commission report released this week that found extensive gathering of location information in several popular apps designed for children.
More broadly, Franken said, “[current] law does not clearly require a company to get your consent before getting your location information from your mobile device. Our law allows a company to legally give or sell that information to any third party, other than the government, and even though current law prohibits an abuser from stalker his victim, it does not clearly prohibit a company from developing and deploying stalking apps.”
Lawmakers praised the bill’s prohibition of stalking apps, but there were concerns about the breadth of the bill’s possible affects on above-board apps makers. Since many popular smartphone apps gather and share a user’s location data, the bill has the potential to impose new rules on app developers.
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the top Republican on the panel, said he worried that instituting a new privacy law too quickly could have unintended consequences on the app development industry — for example, Grassley worried that the bill’s current language might require companies to get consent from users every time they enter into a new agreement with a third-party advertiser that plans to use location data. That could lead to an off-putting flood of consent request notifications.
“If we rush this bill and don’t get it right, we could do serious damage to the technology sector and impact a fast-growing sector,” Grassley said.
Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer agreed.
“I think the bill still needs a lot of work, particularly to assuage the concerns of technology innovators,” he said. “I’m going to vote for the bill today but I reserve the right to object to further movement unless and until some additional changes are made.”
Franken said his office has been working with stakeholders to write an acceptable bill for a year and a half. He said he’s open to working with both the industry and other lawmakers to pass the bill next year.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @dhenry