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Franken renews push to ban 'stalking apps'; ad industry airs concerns


At a Capitol Hill hearing Wednesday U.S. Sen. Al Franken revived his push to ban smartphone apps he says many stalkers use to track the movements of their victims.

As the Associated Press reports, a subcommittee Franken chairs heard from a Minnesota sheriff's deputy and advocates for victims of domestic violence who back the Senator's bill.

Once installed on a person's cell phone, the apps relay information about their movements without their knowledge. Some companies market them as a way for parents to track the whereabouts of their children.

But Northland's News Center reports Franken illustrated the need for a ban by relating the story of a Minnesota woman.

“A woman in St. Louis County, who was being abused, went to a county building where there was a domestic violence center, and while she was there, she got a text on her smartphone from her abuser, saying why are you at the county building?” Franken, said.

International Data Group's news service says Franken pointed out the way some of the apps are marketed. One that's promoted as a way to track cheating spouses calls itself a "spy in their pocket." Another says it allows users to "track every text, every call, and every move they make."

Franken calls his bill the Location Privacy Protection Act.

Ad industry concerns

It would also require companies to get permission from an individual before they could collect location data. That provision has raised concerns in the digital advertising industry, which uses location information to customize online ads.

Ad Age notes that at one point in Wednesday's hearing Franken called location-based services terrific for consumers, adding ""I use them all the time when I drive across Minnesota."

Ad Age says some location-tracking straddles a line between offering consumer convenience and infringing on consumers' privacy.

Financial Times says some trade groups worry Franken's bill is so broad it could restrict apps such as those used by Google Maps, Yelp, or the Weather Channel.

Financial Times says Franken indicated he's willing to revise the bill to ensure it does not hinder legitimate business purposes.

The bill would also require any company that collects location data from 1,000 or more devices to detail online what they collect, how it's shared, and how consumers can opt out.

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