Affiliate Disclosure
If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Read our ethics policy.

Ban on sales of cellular location data could break important privacy precedent in US

Location Services settings in iOS

Buying and selling mobile phone location data is rampant, and it has spawned a billion-dollar industry, but legislatures in Massachusetts are looking for a near-total ban on the practice.

Selling location data harvested from personal devices like iPhones happens in various ways, but it's mainly done through third-party apps. In 2022, for example, a self-described "family-safety platform" called Life360 stopped selling precise location data after it was discovered they sold that information to brokers.

To help keep its residents' digital privacy secure, lawmakers in Massachusetts are moving forward with what would ultimately become an outright ban on buying and selling location data gathered from consumers' mobile devices. As reported by The Wall Street Journal, this would be a first-of-its-kind move from lawmakers in any state up to this point, as other states usually only go as far as requiring apps and services to gain consent regarding data collection.

The new bill, called the Location Shield Act, would also require a warrant for law enforcement to access location data from a mobile device. With this in the bill, data brokers cannot provide location data to agencies without court authorization ahead of time in "most circumstances."

The bill is seeing a lot of support within Massachusetts, and it's backed by Senator Cindy Creem, who said, "I have every reason to be optimistic that something will be happening in this session."

Massachusetts' state legislative session will run through next year, so it may take some time before this bill actually bears any fruit.

Unsurprisingly, a trade association representing "the technology industry" opposed the bill. Andrew Kingman, a lawyer representing the State Privacy & Security Coalition, who is also opposing the bill, said, "We do support heightened protections for particular types of personal information," and said that the term sale is "extremely broad."

Kingman said the industry would support allowing consumers to "opt-out of sale" of their device's location data. However, privacy activists would prefer an opt-in option, or in the case of the legislature, no option at all to collect such sensitive data.

It's possible to see which apps are accessing your location data, right from the Settings app. This is a quick and easy way to double-check which apps you've permitted to use location data.