Senators ask Zuckerberg to explain Facebook location-tracking policies

Senators ask Zuckerberg to explain Facebook location-tracking policies

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg makes rounds of meeting in Russell Building where he discussed technology regulations and social media issues with senators on Thursday, September 19, 2019. He was making his way from a meeting with Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, to one with Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call Group | Getty Images

Two lawmakers are asking Facebook to “respect” users’ decisions to keep their location data from the company.

In a letter sent Tuesday, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to respond to a series of questions about how it collects location data through the new operating systems for Apple‘s iPhones and Google’s Android. Hawley and Coons are both members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Both Google and Apple updated their operating systems earlier this year to give users more control and insight into which apps can access their location data. Anticipating those changes, Facebook released a blog post in September explaining that even if users opt out of letting Facebook collect their data, it could still determine users’ locations in other ways, like through check-ins and users’ internet connections.

“If a user has decided to limit Facebook’s access to his or her location, Facebook should respect these privacy choices,” the senators wrote in the letter to Zuckerberg. “The language in the blog post, however, indicates that Facebook may continue to collect location data despite user preferences, even if the user is not engaging with the app, and Facebook is simply deducing the user’s location from information about his or her internet connection. Given that most mobile devices are connected to the internet nearly all the time, whether through a cellular network or a Wi-Fi connection, this practice would allow Facebook to collect user location data almost constantly, irrespective of the user’s privacy preferences. Users who have selected a restrictive Location Services option could reasonably be under the misimpression that their selection limits all of Facebook’s efforts to extract location information.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

The senators asked Zuckerberg to explain how Facebook collects data from users when their location settings are limited or turned off for their app. They also asked Facebook to share whether it uses location data it collects while users have turned off or restricted location services to target ads or share with third parties. Coons and Hawely asked Zuckerberg to respond by Dec. 12.

Coons and Hawley have both been critical of Facebook’s privacy practices in the past. Hawley is one of the most vocal conservative critics of the tech industry, previously telling Zuckerberg in in a private meeting that he should sell Instagram and WhatsApp if he is serious about protecting consumer data. Coons said last year in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal that Facebook should come up with its own solutions to misinformation and privacy concerns if it wants Congress to back off from regulating them, according to Bloomberg.

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