Senators want Zuckerberg to explain why Facebook still tracks your location even when you ask it not to

Key Points
  • Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., and Chris Coons, D-Del., have asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to explain how the company tracks users' locations under restricted settings.
  • In a letter sent Tuesday, the senators say Zuckerberg should address concerns with the location-tracking policy announced in response to privacy updates made in the latest versions of Apple and Google's mobile operating systems.
  • In a September post explaining the policy, Facebook said it can determine users' locations from factors like their internet connection, even if they have their location settings restricted.
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 senators 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 questions about how the company collects location data through the new operating systems for Apple's iPhones and Google's Android.

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, members of the Judiciary Committee, 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."

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"You can control whether your device shares precise location information with Facebook Products via Location Services, a setting on your mobile device," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement.

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.

Th senators have been critical of Facebook's privacy practices. Hawley is one of the most vocal conservative critics of the tech industry, previously telling Zuckerberg 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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