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Lawmaker Taking Up Privacy for Mobile Users

19 Sep, 2012 By: Doug McPherson

WASHINGTON – Rep. Ed Markey (D–Mass.) unveiled a new privacy bill last week that would make wireless phone manufacturers, carriers and app developers tell consumers about monitoring software installed on their devices.

The Mobile Device Privacy Act (HR 6377) says those companies must tell consumers what type of data will be collected, who will get that data and how it’ll be used. The bill also specifies that companies must share that information before people buy phones with monitoring software, and before they install any apps with those features.

Markey said last week that consumers should know and have the choice to say no to software on their mobile devices that’s transmitting “their personal and sensitive information.”

Broadband advocacy group Free Press is backing the bill. Free Press legislative director Joel Kelsey told Online Media Daily last week that general principles are needed that clearly state what’s permissible and what’s not. He added that questions about privacy and broadband online access “bleed over” if privacy concerns discourage people from using technology.

But the Software & Information Industry Association has called the bill “the wrong way to go.” The group said the measure “would impose rigid privacy rules on the mobile industry that can only lead to stagnation and a loss of innovative dynamism.”

Markey says the proposal arose after Carrier IQ’s software – pre–installed on an estimated 150 million phones – was allegedly logging keystrokes.

In 2011, a video surfaced that appeared to show Carrier IQ tracking keystrokes. The company said its software sometimes captures the contents of messages, but that the data is encoded. The company also said the logging was a bug, and that its software was intended to help mobile carriers to discover the source of network problems, like dropped calls.

Carrier IQ isn’t the only mobile company accused of tracking. App developers like Path and Hipster were reportedly collecting users’ address books secretly. Since then, Google and Apple have said they would require apps distributed through them to tell users about data collection in advance.

The bill isn’t likely to come up for discussion until 2013.

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