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Mobile spying apps fuel domestic violence, US senator says

Grant Gross | June 5, 2014
The U.S. Congress must pass legislation to ban mobile spying apps in order to protect victims of domestic violence, a senator said Wednesday.

Some geolocation devices, such as wearable exercise-tracking equipment, don't have an interface to allow notification, Atkinson said. Another device that enables parents to track the location of their children is a GPS tracker that fits in a backpack but doesn't have an interface, he said.

Atkinson urged lawmakers to focus on cyberstalking and not on limiting the commercial use of geolocation information. Regulating how businesses can use geolocation information would "stifle innovation in an area that is rapidly evolving," he said.

The bill doesn't need to address many apps that have geolocation components to deal with cyberstalking, Atkinson said. A weather app, for example, wouldn't be useful to a stalker because he wouldn't have access to it on the victim's phone, he said.

The bill's provision allowing private lawsuits against app makers is also worrisome, Atkinson said. Many small app developers, "if they were faced with the potential of a $1 million fine for making a small coding mistake, or putting something inaccurate on a website, I believe would think twice about developing a mobile app," he said.

Franken questioned the concerns raised by Atkinson and some other senators.

"If we want to stop stalking apps, we can't target just apps that label themselves as stalking apps," he said. "We also have to lay down a few basic rules of the road."

 

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