Protecting Users Geolocation Data

Geolocation is certainly a hot topic, with everyone from social network operators to app developers looking to find ways to include location information and hopefully monetize it.  But geolocation information is also controversial, as not everyone wants this information collected, tracked and used for a profit.  You may have seen the outcry that erupted after an app revealed that Apple iPhones were collecting users’ geolocation data, seemingly without their consent.  The question of who owns geolocation data is increasingly being asked by consumers and in the courts, and the answer is not entirely clear, though with several class actions lawsuits pending in the U.S., it is likely that the courts will clarify this issue. 

Companies are starting to address the collection of geolocation data in their privacy policies or terms of use, which is a good practice to follow.  If your business is planning to collect and use geolocation data, it is also a good idea to have a plan for how such data will be handled, secured, and disposed of after its use.  This plan should include ensuring that your plan complies with state and federal privacy laws.  An important area to address is planning as to whether geolocation data will be collected in combination with personally identifiable information such as users’ names, addresses, phone numbers and Social Security Numbers.  From a compliance standpoint, collecting both types of data together can add challenges for a company, as the company then also has to comply with laws like the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, Federal Trade Commission guidelines, and more.  

As you can see, planning for the handling of data like geolocation data should be done early on to try and avoid problems down the road. This is definitely an area to keep an eye on, as different states and countries are discussing the handling of consumers’ data, and proposing changes to their respective laws in response to recent controversies. 

For a review of Federal & State privacy laws visit BBBOnline.

Are you capturing customer data on a mobile app? If so, what precautions are you taking to protect that information?

As always, this post is not intended to be legal advice, and is not a substitute for the advice of a licensed attorney in your area.  

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