Ina Fried

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House Bill Would Require Cellphone Owners Be Notified of Tracking Software

A new bill before Congress would require cellphone makers and carriers to let consumers know what software, if any, is installed to track their behavior.

Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey said on Monday that he had drafted a bill requiring device makers and others to inform consumers of what software is installed or added to their phones.

The move comes after last year’s uproar surrounding Carrier IQ software installed on various devices on behalf of cellular providers.

“Consumers have the right to know and to say no to the presence of software on their mobile devices that can collect and transmit their personal and sensitive information,” Markey said in a statement.

A number of carriers and device makers have backed away from supporting or using Carrier IQ, including Apple and Sprint. Carrier IQ has also defended its practices.

As drafted, the bill would require consumers to be notified when they buy a device about what monitoring software is installed; and to be told if the device maker, carrier or operating-system provider later installs such software, or if a downloaded app also includes tracking software.

Consumers would be told what type of information is collected, how it will be used and to whom it is provided. Cellphone owners would have to give consent, and any parties getting the information would be required to have policies in place to protect the information.

I’ve sent notes to the major carriers, device makers and mobile operating system vendors to see if they have anything to say about the new bill. A representative of the CTIA, a cellphone industry trade association, said the group had no position or comment.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work