Taming the Golden Goose: Private Companies, Consumer Geolocation Data, and the Need for a Class Action Regime for Privacy Protection

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Timothy J. Van Hal · 15 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. L. 713

Abstract

With the implementation of new geolocation technologies, the boundaries between private versus commercial and secret versus easily ascertainable have vanished. Consumer information that was once very difficult and prohibitively expensive to ascertain, catalogue, and recall is available to companies at the click of a button. Not only that, but the collecting company can share consumer information with other companies even more easily than it can initially collect the information. Today, with the widespread use of smartphone and location-enabled tablet devices, it is possible for location services to determine and plot the location and travel of the device and thereby the travel and habits of the owner. Companies can use the collected customer information to sell products, and they can sell the information to third parties for a variety of both benign and malicious purposes. Meanwhile, skilled hackers can steal consumer information.

After analyzing the current legal landscape of consumer privacy law as it relates to geolocation services, this Note argues that US and global consumers need the United States to act. In order to foster trust in corporations and the market, Congress should enact a framework that assures consumers of sufficient protection of those details that consumers hold intrinsically private, such as their personal locations. This Note concludes by examining the bills currently under consideration by Congress and their respective deficiencies.