Congress is a lot like a slot machine - once in a while, something good comes out. A new bill introduced by Representative Ed Markey of Massachusetts would require cellular carriers in the US to disclose to end users upon purchase of a mobile device any tracking software present on said device, or any such software that might be installed at a later date by the carrier, manufacturer, or OS provider (that would be Google for Android).

After the Carrier IQ debacle, the public has taken a heightened interest in the privacy of the information on their smartphone devices, and rightfully so. Carrier-installed tracking software collects a surprising amount of data about use habits, and that data is used in ways which could, at best, be described as ambiguous.

The Mobile Device Privacy Act would require the consent of users in order for this data to be collected. However, the Act says nothing about opting out of data collection. This means, essentially, that the act does not actually seek to change the behavior of carriers or give consumers more options about the data that is collected by operators when they use a smartphone, but merely to let them know that the data is being collected in the first place. Mandating that carriers provide opt-out provisions would present a serious obstacle given the extensive lobbying power of the wireless industry in the US.

In short, the bill would mean another page of agreements in the documents you sign when buying a phone or service on a particular carrier.

Still, it's a start, and it's a bill we'd like to see get passed.