Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of participating on a panel about location-based services at the FTC's town hall meeting, Beyond Voice: Mapping the Mobile Marketplace. Now that the number of U.S. consumers who own a mobile device has outpaced the number of U.S. Internet users, the policy issues in the mobile space are taking on increased importance. And with numerous new technologies that can determine the location of a mobile device - not to mention a government mandate that mobile phones should be locatable for 911 emergency purposes - location privacy issues are sure to be front and center. In a separate proceeding at the FTC, the Commission recently asked for input about what kinds of data should be considered "sensitive" in the behavioral advertising context, where consumers' online activities are tracked for the purposes of displaying relevant advertisements to them. CDT suggested that geographic location information should be considered as a sensitive data category that deserves special protections, in part because of the unique privacy challenges that location information presents. Unlike clickstream data, location information can be collected all the time and everywhere. Although many consumers may not realize this - 35% of respondents in a recent study did not believe law enforcement had the ability to track the location of their cell phones - mobile devices are constantly making location information available, even when they're not in active use.
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