The European Union’s top privacy advisory body is to issue an opinion later this month saying that location data collected by phone and internet companies must be treated in the same way as other personal information.
The opinion, to be published by the ‘Article 29 Working Party’ alliance of European national regulators, is not binding but is likely to be adopted as a guiding principle by most countries involved.
An EU official told the Wall Street Journal that the group will say "geo-location data has to be considered as personal data. The rules on personal data apply to them".
This means that US smartphone vendors such as Apple and Google will have to obtain user consent before gathering location data. They will also need to ensure that the information kept is anonymous and that it is deleted after a certain length of time.
The EU’s move follows a public outcry earlier this month when it was revealed that Apple’s devices gathered, stored and used customer location data for advertising purposes. The revelations have led to multiple law suits as well as company executives having to explain its policies to the US Congress. Apple has since issued a software update to fix what it described as a location-tracking 'bug'.
But the action also fits with the ongoing stance of European Commissioner for Justice Viviane Reding, who is known to be a fervent advocate of consumer rights. She has already promised to "expand data protection to other areas" such as localisation data services and behavioural advertising, with her proposals due to be published before the end of this year.
Meanwhile, following complaints from consumers who believe their movements have been tracked without their consent, investigations have now been opened into the situation by the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Ireland.