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Jessica Rosenworcel FCC

Jessica Rosenworcel was confirmed as Federal Communications Commission chair on December 7, 2021. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

44 House Dems Urge FCC, FTC to Boost Privacy Protections for Consumers' Location Data

The lawmakers lamented that "apps can harvest personal information, such as geolocation and phone identifiers, even after users denied permission for such sharing."

Brett Wilkins

Online privacy advocates on Thursday welcomed a letter by dozens of House Democrats urging the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission to enact rules prohibiting the collection and sale of consumers' location data.

Writing to FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel—who was confirmed to the post on Tuesday—and FTC Chair Lina Khan, 44 lawmakers led by Reps. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and Katie Porter (D-Calif.) noted that "currently, app developers are able to collect sensitive user information and sell it to interested parties for a substantial profit."

"Apps can harvest personal information, such as geolocation and phone identifiers, even after users denied permission for such sharing," the lawmakers wrote. "We are concerned that the continued, unregulated commercialization of private geolocation data compromises the safety and privacy of consumers."

"In the past, both FTC and FCC punished bad actors for failing to safeguard location data, but the agencies fell short of establishing prophylactic rules that will better protect consumers," they continued. "While we applaud the agencies' commitments to consumer privacy and safety, it is clear that more needs to be done. To that end, we ask that your agencies take… steps to better protect the safety and privacy of consumers."

The letter's signers want the FTC to:

  • Define the sale, transfer, use, or purchase of precise location data collected by an app for purposes other than the essential function of the app as an "unfair act or practice";
  • Define app developers' mislabeling of users' location data as "anonymous" as a "deceptive practice"; and
  • Enforce its regulations against companies abusing consumers' location data through its penalty authority.

Digital rights groups including Accountable Tech, Common Cause, Free Press Action Fund, and Project on Government Oversight have endorsed the lawmakers' letter, which comes amid a serious Republican challenge to the confirmation of President Joe Biden's nomination of Gigi Sohn to fill the fifth FCC commissioner seat and give Democrats a 3-2 advantage on the regulator's governing body.

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