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May 09, 2011

Apple, Google to Testify during U.S. Senate Hearing on Mobile Privacy Protection

By Ed Silverstein, TMCnet Contributor


Al Franken was a humorist before getting elected to the U.S. Senate. But the issue of mobile privacy protection is not a joke to him.

On Tuesday, May 10, Franken (D-Minn.), will chair a hearing sponsored by Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law, on “Protecting Mobile Privacy: Your Smartphones, Tablets, Cell Phones and Your Privacy.”


The witness list includes representatives from Google and Apple (News - Alert), as well as many government officials.

The hearing is being held a month after it was reported that Apple's iPhones were collecting and storing data about a users’ location.

Hearing witnesses include Jessica Rich, deputy director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, Federal Trade Commission; Jason Weinstein, deputy assistant attorney general, Criminal Division, U.S. Department of Justice; Justin Brookman, director, Project on Consumer Privacy, Center for Democracy and Technology; Alan Davidson (News - Alert), director of Public Policy, Americas, Google Inc.; Ashkan Soltani, independent researcher and consultant; Guy L. “Bud” Tribble, vice president of software technology, Apple Inc.; and Jonathan Zuck, president, Association for Competitive Technology.

Franken recently wrote Apple CEO Steve Jobs (News - Alert) “to address privacy concerns about the company's iOS 4 operating system, which security researchers have said secretly stores detailed information about users' locations on their iPhones, iPads, and any computers to which the devices are synched, generally in an unencrypted format,” according to a statement released from Franken’s office.

In addition, Franken encouraged the U.S. Attorney General’s office “to incorporate an analysis of geotags-information about a person's location that is embedded in photos and videos taken with GPS-equipped smartphones-into an updated stalking victimization study,” the statement adds.

Franken also recently advocated that Facebook stop third party application providers accessing users' home addresses and phone numbers. And he asked the Justice Department to review a law “that protects personal data after a security breach at Epsilon Data Management and allegations that several popular smartphone applications were gathering and disclosing users' private information without their knowledge or consent,” the statement said.

Reuters reports that Apple and Google, as well as other technology companies, are hopeful that “tracks of millions of mobile device users will lead to billions of dollars in revenue.”

By 2014, it may be worth $3 billion or more, Carter Lusher, an analyst at Ovum (News - Alert), recently told Reuters.

But Franken and other legislators may want to push for new laws to restrict companies’ use of confidential data. One area where there are concerns is with insurance companies, which according to Reuters (News - Alert), “have explored using location tracking to calculate insurance rates by noting where people go – for example if they go to a gym or a donut store.”

In related news, last month the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to developers of mobile device operating systems, including Apple and Google, to get information on implications of tracking for privacy and communications policy, according to a report on TMCnet.




Ed Silverstein is a TMCnet contributor. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell


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