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Location Tracking – Public Opinion is Changing Laws

In our digital age, personal rights over private data—and how that data is collected and shared—have become a growing concern. Privacy laws and rules imposed on corporations and government are a primary strategy for avoiding data exploitation. Data-intensive systems are growing, and having a strong regulatory privacy framework in place can ward off profiteering from legal loopholes. However, the US has only limited federal laws in place to regulate data privacy.

One of the more common ways businesses collect and use personal customer or user data is with location tracking. Location tracking uses technology to identify where users are located or to track the movement of users as their locations change over time. These technologies primarily use GPS features in smart devices. Current US law only protects location data that is identified to an individual. Anonymized location data does not fall under this law—but can be easily identifiable and used by third parties. While location tracking can be a useful tool for businesses, companies that depend heavily on location tracking should be aware that the legal landscape is quickly changing.

How do businesses use location tracking?

Businesses of all sizes use location tracking, especially for their location-based advertising. A company can determine a user’s IP address on multiple types of internet-connected technologies and build a customized personal profile on individuals. Once it has collected this information, highly-personalized and applicable advertising is targeted to that user’s devices. Businesses can also buy this information from third-party sources to achieve these advertising goals.

Some businesses also use location tracking to monitor employees and keep track of costly mobile assets. In the states where location tracking laws are less ironclad, such as Delaware, employers may use location tracking on their employees who use company-owned vehicles or electronic devices to browse the internet. There continues to be less clarity when it comes to off-duty tracking being done on company-owned devices in states with similar insubstantial location tracking laws, however.

Location tracking and privacy concerns

Location information and tracking technologies are rapidly developing—raising issues with privacy over personal data. Businesses are able to acquire location data from individual, sometimes without their knowledge, and then sell or analyze it. Using only location tracking patterns, an individual can not only be identified, but also have their lifestyle inferred from the data. The potential for data misuse (or theft from lack of proper security) has significant risks for individuals.

State laws prohibiting location-tracking

Public opinion shows strong support in favor of federal privacy laws, especially in regards to location tracking. All states have their own privacy laws specific to regulating data privacy and location tracking, although some states have more rigid laws and codes than others. For example, California has the California Consumer Privacy Act that will take effect in 2020, and is considered the most stringent privacy legislation enacted among all 50 states. It will disallow third-party behavioral profiling, including many forms of location tracking. New York City has recently moved to prohibit sharing of location data as well, enforcing fines on each instance of sharing location data that occurs within NYC.

Federal data privacy protections on the horizon

A Senate hearing back on March 12th had several presenters who included legislative proposals for a federal privacy law. The issue has gained more attention this year than it ever has, although the political will needed for this issue to gain traction has yet to be seen. Given the quick pace of development of data analytics, it’s all the more important for businesses to understand the growing desire for clients or users to control their own data. With more and more laws moving to protect rights to privacy, businesses should be prepared to adapt to new legislation restricting location tracking.

At Northwest, we have long been a proponent of data privacy. We don’t sell your data, and we never will. Looking to form a new LLC or corporation or hire a registered agent service? With Northwest, you don’t have to worry about compromising your privacy.

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