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Location Data Is Personal and Private Confirms EU Watchdog

The European Union data protection watchdog says that geo-location constitutes private data.

The opinion, which was approved by the Article 29 Working Party on Monday, looked at developments in mobile technology and the current legal framework around them and makes recommendations.

"Location data is certainly, in many instances, private data, and there then follows the obligations to inform users, and the opportunity to opt in or opt out," Peter Hustinx, Europe's Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) and member of the working group, told IDG News Service.

Private or personal data receives a much higher level of protection under the E.U.'s Data Protection Directive than anonymous data. This directive is currently under review by the European Commission and reforms are due to be announced later this year. If the Commission accepts the working group's recommendations, geo-location could be included in the law.

Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said recently that she would push for more restrictive laws to ensure privacy is maintained in the Internet age and plans "to expand data protection legislation to other areas." She also hit out at Apple following revelations in April that the iPhone and iPad stored information about the devices' location. Apple denied it was deliberately tracking users' locations.

Google also then came under fire, but the maker of the Android smartphone OS argued that it anonymously processed the data and only recorded it in the first place if mobile users opted in.

But Hustinx pointed out that there are many parties involved in this issue -- there's the provider, the apps provider, the infrastructure and so on. The Article 29 Working Party is made up of data protection regulators from the 27 member countries of the E.U. and is independent of the Commission. It will make the full text of its opinion public on its website later this week.

Follow Jennifer on Twitter at @BrusselsGeek or email tips and comments to jennifer_baker@idg.com.

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