Consumer Action survey finds respondents want location data used only for the purpose for which it’s collected

 

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Washington, D.C.— A new survey and report, released today, by Consumer Action finds that survey respondents believe that location data should only be used for the reason it was collected. All other purposes should require express, upfront consent. Yet permission often is not sought, or blanket permission for access is hidden in the fine print.

Unbeknownst to many users, weather, transit, travel, shopping, coupon, dating apps and websites share and sell our location information.

Consumer Action’s online survey* and Location Tracking and Data Collection report focus on the collection and use of consumer location data by various industries. We examine who has access to our location information, how the data is used, whether our location is shared with others, and what, if any, control we have over tracking and sharing.

  • Respondents overwhelmingly (83%) oppose companies sharing or selling user location data to third parties.
  • Two-thirds of those surveyed said companies should only collect location information to provide a location-based service (such as ridesharing services, directions, roadside assistance, etc.). More than half (57%) said companies should not retain that data; nearly one-third (31%) said it would be okay to retain location data with prior consumer consent.
  • Nearly three-quarters (73.6%) of respondents want companies to allow deletion of location history, and 72.5% want firms to request permission to access location information each time the service or app is used.

“Consumers have little to no knowledge of or control over who collects, uses and shares their location data, despite growing agreement that clear guidelines are needed to protect this personal information," said Linda Sherry, Consumer Action’s director of national priorities.

We can be tracked via our smartphones, mobile apps, internet service providers, connected home devices and more. This real-time tracking has the potential to create consumer harm when used in decisions about jobs, insurance, the price we pay for goods—and even threatens our safety and physical wellbeing if it lands in the wrong hands.

“With hidden profiles being assembled about each of us, precision tools used to track us, and growing data sources amassed to help others judge us, there’s plenty of reason for consumer concern,” said Sherry. “Consumer Action supports a robust national data protection law as a foundation to strengthen individual control over our data.”

Data protection recommendations

Consumer Action believes that companies that collect, share and sell our data must be held to a clear standard of privacy and security. Some sensitive data collection should not be allowed at all. In addition to preserving states’ rights to protect their citizens, Consumer Action believes a strong federal data protection law must give individuals the right to:

  • Know what personal data about us is collected, used, stored, shared and sold, and for what specific purposes;
  • Access and obtain a copy of that data;
  • Correct and/or delete inaccurate data;
  • Prevent the sharing or sale of personal data to third parties without express notice and consent, not hidden in terms and contracts of adhesion; and
  • Sue a company that violates these protections.

The report

Consumer Action’s Location Tracking and Data Collection report examines location data use by internet service providers, social media companies, food delivery apps, car companies, wearable technology and employers.

Internet service providers (ISPs): Users’ cell phones act like personal trackers, collecting very accurate accounts of individuals’ locations (within a few feet to a few hundred meters). What consumers may not realize is that we often provide permission—buried in fine-print terms—for ISPs to collect all sorts of data on us just by signing a service contract. This data has been resold to third parties, including car salesmen, property management companies—even stalkers and bounty hunters.

Social media (Google, Facebook, etc.): Frequently, tech companies track and collect our location, and this monitoring can go on even when we’re not logged in to accounts.

Vehicle location tracking: There are no laws that prescribe or limit how data captured by your car can be used, or who owns it, with a lone exception for data gathered from accident data recorders.

Food delivery: Popular food delivery apps state in their privacy policies that they reserve the right to share users’ personal data (name, phone number, address, etc.) with third parties, including the restaurants they partner with.

Wearable fitness apps: Wristband devices can track users’ location (as well as personal biometric information) and share it with partners and affiliated companies. This data is not covered by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). While users are told the data is “de-identified” when shared, researchers have been successful in re-identifying people from anonymized location data.

Employee tracking: Location data may help employers improve worker productivity or protect overseas’ staff from a crisis far from home, but employees can be tracked without fully understanding the mechanisms and purposes of tracking. No national law prevents GPS tracking by employers, however some states—California, Texas, Virginia, Minnesota and Tennessee—require vehicle owners’ advance consent (not a factor when the employer owns the vehicle).

 

*2,475 consumers participated in Consumer Action’s online location data preference survey via SurveyMonkey from Feb. 8 through March 4 of this year. For full survey results click here. For the full location data report see: http://bit.ly/location-data-report. Consumer Action prohibits the use of its surveys for commercial purposes.

 

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Consumer Action has been a champion of underrepresented consumers nationwide since 1971. A non-profit 501(c)3 organization, Consumer Action focuses on consumer education that empowers low- and moderate-income and limited-English-speaking consumers to financially prosper. It also advocates for consumers in the media and before lawmakers and regulators to advance consumer rights and promote industry-wide change.

By providing consumer education materials in multiple languages, a free national hotline, a comprehensive website (www.consumer-action.org) and annual surveys of financial and consumer services, Consumer Action helps consumers assert their rights in the marketplace and make financially savvy choices. Nearly 7,000 community and grassroots organizations benefit annually from its extensive outreach programs, training materials and support.

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