- New York City is weighing whether to ban the controversial practice of selling the location data of mobile users, eliminating a source of revenue for telecommunications companies and apps that collect the information, The New York Times reported.
- Councilman Justin L. Brannan this week introduced the bill, said to be the first of its kind, requiring wireless carriers and apps to get explicit permission to share users' location data with third parties. He says the bill stems from the federal government's inaction around addressing data privacy issues. "It's really focused on protecting the consumer, who is completely unaware that their data is being bought and sold on the market," Brannan told our sister publication Smart Cities Dive in an interview.
- Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose signature is needed to enact the law, will review the bill, a spokesperson told the Times. If passed, the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications will enforce the law.
New York's proposed ban on the sale of location data comes as consumers grow more aware of privacy issues amid high-profile incidents like Equifax's massive data breach and Facebook's Cambridge Analytica scandal. Ninety-two percent of consumers said they should have control over their personal data, and 71% said they would no longer conduct business with organizations that shared their information without consent, PricewaterhouseCoopers found in a 2017 study.
The federal government hasn't enacted a law to protect consumers' location data, leaving cities and states to step up enforcement of privacy regulations.
"If the federal government won't get involved and ban this dangerous breach of a person's privacy, then New York City needs to lead the charge and we need to protect people in the process," Brannan told Smart Cities Dive.
Meanwhile, San Francisco voters last year approved a ballot measure requiring companies to disclose their data practices and secure customer data to win city contracts. The City of Los Angeles in January sued developers of the Weather Channel app, accusing them of deceptively collecting location data from millions of U.S. mobile users.
If DC won’t ban this dangerous breach of privacy, NYC can lead the way, and protect people in the process.— Justin Brannan (@JustinBrannan) July 23, 2019
My bill would make it illegal for cell companies and mobile apps to share your location info without your explicit permission. https://t.co/QikRzutQcA
The ad-tech industry, which has a strong presence in New York, likely will be the most vocal opponents of the proposal to ban the sale of location data. The data help to boost the effectiveness of ad campaigns, according to a report this month by location data provider Factual. Location data play a key role in omnichannel sales with 70% of marketers using a mobile-first strategy for customer engagement, per a separate study.
Spending on location analytics is set to grow to $15 billion by 2023 from $8.35 billion in 2017, according to a report from mobile data company Placer.ai cited by Bloomberg. The industry generally prefers a national law over contending with a patchwork of city and state regulations, according to Dave Grimaldi, EVP of public policy for the Interactive Advertising Bureau.
"Consumers and businesses need and deserve a uniform national data privacy law that protects consumers regardless of where they reside while preserving the benefits that come from responsible use of data," he told Smart Cities Dive.
The country's biggest cellular carriers have worked to address privacy issues related to location data, which may mute the effect of a possible crackdown by New York. AT&T and T-Mobile will stop providing the real-time locations of individual U.S. customers to data resellers after a report indicated sensitive personal information is easy to get without informed consent, according to The Wall Street Journal. Their plans follow announcements last year by all four of the biggest mobile carriers in the U.S. — Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile — to limit data sales.