Brown Joins Domestic Violence Advocate To Outline Need For "Do Not Track" Internet And Smartphone Privacy Legislation

“Do Not Track” Bill Would Safeguard Consumers From Companies That Track Users’ Whereabouts, Give Domestic Violence Victims Additional Safeguard Against GPS-Enabled Smartphone Stalking

CLEVELAND, OH—U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) held a news conference in Cleveland today to outline new “do not track” legislation he is supporting that would give Internet and smartphone users—including victims of domestic abuse and stalking—the ability to prevent anyone from collecting or tracking their personal information, including their whereabouts.

In the wake of the successful “Do-Not-Call” registry implemented in 2004, this legislation would allow Ohioans to decide whether or not their information can be collected by websites and mobile applications, and let them determine how online companies can use their personal information or track their movements online.  Brown was joined by Nancy Neylon, executive director of the Ohio Domestic Violence Network, and James Hardiman, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio, to discuss the need for increased Internet and smartphone privacy

“Right now, frequently used websites like Google and Facebook can use consumers’ personal information—without their consent—for marketing or advertising purposes. And popular smartphone applications for phones like the iPhone can also use your location—provided through GPS technology—for the same reason,’ Brown said. “That’s why I’m supporting ‘Do-Not-Track’ legislation that would give Ohioans the ability to tell websites and smartphone applications ‘no, thanks’ when it comes to collecting and using personal data.”

“This bill would help protect all users of the Internet and smartphones. But it would particularly help those who have been victimized by domestic abuse or stalking. Disturbingly enough, criminals who engage in domestic abuse have been able to exploit the GPS technology in smartphones to track down their victims. With the Department of Justice reporting that nearly 1 out of every 9 domestic violence survivors was stalked or harassed using GPS technology, it’s clear that we need to act to protect these victims and their family members from future abuse,” Brown continued.

“Consumers Union commends Senator Brown for his support of this “Do Not Track” initiative. This bill is a key step in protecting the online privacy of the many consumers who want to say 'no' to online tracking in a simple, straightforward way. This “Do Not Track” legislation will give consumers much needed control over their personal data as they surf online and through mobile applications. Consumers Union looks forward to working with Senator Brown and other key supporters to help pass this legislation,” said Ioana Rusu, Regulatory Counsel for Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.

“We hear a lot about consumer empowerment, but this legislation would actually give real power to consumers who want to keep their online activities private,” said Susan Grant, CFA’s Director of Consumer Protection. “We appreciate Senator Brown’s commitment to ensuring that when consumers in Ohio and elsewhere go online, their privacy interests and the interests of advertisers and others who may want their personal information will be appropriately balanced.”

In addition to providing all Internet or smartphone consumers with additional privacy safeguards, the legislation—the Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2011—would have the added benefit of helping protect victims of domestic abuse and stalking.  Recent news reports have revealed that the location of smartphone users can be tracked without the user's knowledge or consent. A 2009 Department of Justice report entitled Stalking Victimization in the United States reported that approximately 1 out of every 9 (10.9%) of domestic violence victims were stalked using GPS technology, which is present in many smartphones.

Last August, a Wall Street Journal story noted the rising prevalence of GPS stalking via cell phone, as did a February 2010 PC World article entitled “GPS: a Stalker’s Best Friend.” While most mobile applications and GPS technologies were not developed to enable stalking, some abusers have exploited the technology to track or follow their victims.

In a recent survey by the privacy certification company TRUSTe, 98 percent of respondents expressed a strong desire for better controls over how their personal information is collected and used by mobile applications. The bill has garnered wide support from several consumer protection groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, Consumer Watchdog, Consumer Action, and the Center for Digital Democracy.

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