Senator Al Franken (Diego M. Radzinschi)
Advertising and technology industry advocates on Wednesday spoke out against legislation Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., offered to stop the surreptitious collection of location data from smartphones and other electronic devices, telling lawmakers that businesses working with the information can regulate themselves.
Testifying at a Senate hearing on the Location Privacy Protection Act, Lou Mastria, executive director of the Digital Advertising Association, and Robert Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, said the bill would hurt efforts by businesses to collect and use customer data in new ways.
The measure, which Franken introduced to fight so-called stalking apps blamed for domestic abuse, would direct businesses to get their customers’ permission before they gather location data from smartphones, tablets and mobile navigation devices. App companies and other businesses also couldn’t give the information to third parties without the consent of their customers.
Mastria, whose group represents several major advertising trade groups, said cyberstalking is a problem. But companies that make stalking apps don’t fall in the same category as advertisers that use location data for “legitimate commercial” purposes, he said. The DAA’s program for protecting consumer location information has “stringent requirements” intended to increase transparency about data collection, he noted.
“The DAA is the story of empowering consumers through transparency and control,” he said. “It has nimbly adapted consumer controls to meet quickly evolving market changes and consumer preferences.”
Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League, said during the hearing that the DAA’s self-regulatory program is “full of holes” and “feels like a [public relations] gesture,” which Mastria denied.
“I think there is monumental evidence that self-regulation is not working,” Greenberg said, noting concerns expressed by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the independent investigate arm of Congress.
Franken previously offered the bill in 2011, but it didn’t secure a vote before the full Senate after it cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which opposed the legislation, called it “seriously flawed.”
The senator said he has reworked his bill to make compliance easier for companies and address other concerns businesses had about the measure, adding that he didn’t think it hurts industry. But he said further revisions are still possible.
“I’m going to think about today’s testimony though and other feedback that we get, and we’ll work to address that feedback to make any needed improvements in the bill between now and the time it gets a vote,” said Franken, who is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s privacy, technology and the law subcommittee, which held the hearing.