Location Privacy

There are reports of major telecommunication companies collecting and sharing the location information of their customers. Other businesses also track a customer’s location. Regardless of the legality or if such practice is allowable due to customer agreements (like terms of service or privacy policy), I have concerns over past abuses and future potential abuse of an individual’s location information and concerns over how that information is retained and shared with others.

I believe it is a reasonable exception of privacy that an individual’s location is generally not tracked and not historically stored. However, it is also reasonable that an individual’s location will be determined and used while the person is using a product or service that requires a current location in order to function properly or provide a desired capability. Nevertheless, when the individual stops using the product or service, all tracking of location should immediately cease and past location information should be deleted. Additionally the location information should be strictly shared and communicated only with equipment and people that are related to the product or service and have a “need to know.”

The fourth amendment to the US Constitution provides privacy to citizens. Surveillance by the government is only allowed after obtaining a warrant based on “probable cause.” Sadly there are no equivalent safeguards of privacy and protections from surveillance by other entities, including businesses, corporations, nonprofit organizations, religious institutions and so on.

To properly safeguard privacy regarding location information, I suggest that law be enacted to provide the following:

  • A user must provide opt-in permission in order for a product or service to use location
  • A user must provide separate opt-in permission in order for a product or service to use location history (in other words, store location information beyond the present time and current use)
  • A user may opt-out at any time (revoke permission to location or revoke permission for location history)
    • The opt-out must be simple and easy for the user to find and request
    • The revocation of location permission must take full effect within 24 hours
    • The revocation of location history permission must take full effect and all stored historic location information must be deleted from storage within 72 hours
  • If a user does not give location permission or location history permission:
    • the product or service will continue to operate in a degraded functionality; however,
    • other capabilities not directly related to and requiring location or location history will continue to function as expected (no crippled capability nor reduced service)
  • A product or service that request location permission or location history permission must provide an easy to find and easy to understand description of:
    • why the permission is needed and
    • how the location information will be safeguarded
  • A user has full permission and right to the user’s own location information (and history) and
    • the user has full access to their own location
    • the user may transfer the user’s own location information to any device or equipment that the user owns or controls
  • The user must give explicit permission to share the user’s location or location history with any equipment or person or entity that is considered a third party and does not provide direct and relevant processing for the corresponding product or service
  • Any equipment or person or entity that is considered a third party and that provides direct and relevant processing for the corresponding product or service will be bound by the same permissions and obligations regarding location information as the provider of the corresponding product or service
  • Location information includes and is not limited to:
    • GPS location
    • other Earth based location information
    • geographical area from IP address or IP address range
    • geographical area from connecting to one or more cell towers (whether triangulated or not)
    • a Bluetooth beacon
    • any form of location information due to a user’s device that connects to any network or connects to any other equipment that is not owned and not controlled by the user
    • any location information derived from any other equipment or technology that can locate a user (regardless of precision or geographical area)
      • example, facial recognition from a camera feed at a specific location or from a camera used within a defined area
    • other location information that is deduced, inferred or derived from other data, regardless of precision or accuracy

In essence, the same expectation of (location) privacy and protection from surveillance should apply not only to government but also to corporations, businesses and other organizations.