AppRights Takes the Legislative Process to Twitter via #PrivChat

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tuesday afternoon, Congressman Johnson and the AppRights team opened up the legislative process to the privacy community on Twitter.

#PrivChat's co-hosts, Amie Stepanovich of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) and Shaun Dakin of Dakin & Associates, invited @RepHankJohnson and @AppRightsUS to join the weekly discussion as featured guests.  We were honored to accept.

The AppRights team took the opportunity to ask critical questions about how Congress can ensure the privacy of mobile device users.  Congressman Johnson took time out of a busy day on the campaign trail to drop in on the conversation.

Our first question: whether geolocation is the most important privacy issue for mobile users.

A study by the Pew Research Center found 77% of adults used a mobile device in 2008.  As more users flock to smartphones with GPS technology, there is a growing concern that mobile devices are becoming de facto tracking devices.  As Peter Maass and Megha Rajagopalan wrote recently in the New York Times:

“Thanks to the explosion of GPS technology and smartphone apps, these devices are also taking note of what we buy, where and when we buy it, how much money we have in the bank, whom we text and e-mail, what Web sites we visit, how and where we travel, what time we go to sleep and wake up — and more.”

A number of the experts and advocates responded to our question.  Wayne Chambliss of Geoloqi wrote:

Jim Adler, the chief privacy officer at Intelius, asked a philosophical question with serious privacy (and policy) implications:

But others disagreed, or pointed to other issues.  Patrick Gage Kelley, an assistant professor of computer science at the University of New Mexico, thought that users’ location is less important:

Next, we asked whether transparency is the most important principle for mobile privacy or if other principles, like individual control, are more important.  The team at Hibe, a social media platform, weighed in:

Geoloqi's Wayne Chambliss argued that user control is as or more important than transparency -- steering the car is just as important as seeing through the windshield:

We still have serious questions about whether transparency alone is enough.  In fact, we have serious questions about whether transparency and user control are even enough together. 

Does the federal government need to step in and set some minimum standards for the handling of consumers' data?  Can we simply rely on consumers to make responsible decisions once information is available to them?  We asked the question:

We think this is one of the critical unanswered questions.  We raised it in our initial reaction to EFF's Mobile User Privacy Bill of rights, as well.  We want to hear from you!

Moving to children’s online safety, our third question was whether the Do Not Track Kids Act is constructive legislation to protect children’s mobile privacy.  We also asked whether legislation should distinguish between children and adults in the first place.

Jim Adler thought that children differ from adults and deserve stronger privacy protections:

But Jasmine McNealy, an Assistant Professor at Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Public Communications, expressed concern that separating children and adults raises First Amendment speech issues like vagueness and overbreadth.  Referring to the Do Not Track Kids Act, she wrote:

We enjoyed and benefited from the #PrivChat discussion and we're glad Congressman Johnson was able to join us.  He launched AppRights to make the legislative process as transparent and open as possible, and we look forward to hearing more ideas about how we can empower and protect mobile-device users.

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