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Senator Grills Google Exec: ‘Americans Did Not Sign Up for’ Location Tracking

(Dado Ruvic/Reuters)

Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) chastised Google’s senior policy counsel during a Tuesday Judiciary Committee hearing over the company’s reliance on what they perceive to be overly invasive location-tracking technology.

“Do you think the average consumer would be surprised to learn that her location is recorded and sent to Google hundreds of times every day, even when she is not using her phone?” Hawley asked Senior Policy Counsel Will Devries, referring to consumers who use Google’s Android products.

In response, Devries argued that the near-constant location tracking performed by Google devices and software is necessary to provide the services, such as mapping services, that consumers have come to rely on.

Hawley, citing a New York Times article from last year that detailed how Google monetizes users’ location data, argued that there should be a way for Americans to use Google technology while opting out of location tracking.

“Here’s my basic concern: Americans did not sign up for this,” Hawley shot back. “They think that the products that you offer are free — they’re not free. They think that they can opt out of the tracking that you’re performing — they can’t meaningfully opt out.”

Hawley sparred with Devries on the same day he introduced a bill along with Senator Ed Markey (D., Mass.) that would prohibit technology companies from extracting the personal data of consumers under the age of 13 without parental consent. The legislation would also mandate that tech firms provide a mechanism by which a parent can erase all of their child’s data, and prohibits targeting ads to children based on their online behavior.

While Hawley has prioritized the aggressive regulation of big tech firms since taking office in January, fellow Republicans, such as Senator Thom Tillis (R., N.C.), continue to warn that government intervention may have the unintended consequence of harming American innovation.

“This ecosystem is more complicated than just jumping on a populist notion that you are somehow exploiting consumer data and that you should be stopped,” Tillis said during the Tuesday hearing. “Because if you get stopped then all of a sudden you have to have a credit card that you need to offer Google if you want a Gmail account. These platforms have to derive revenue somehow. We need to be careful with respect to global competition and other challenges that we have that we [do not] overreact.”

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