Lawmakers throw Apple a slow curve, right over the plate

Five Republican House members just discovered that tech companies play fast and loose with users’ location data.

From the Wall Street Journal ($):

House lawmakers sent letters Monday to the chief executives of Alphabet Inc. (Google) and Apple Inc. seeking answers about how they handle users’ personal information, including spoken words, email content and location data.

The letters show that privacy concerns in Washington have spread beyond Facebook Inc., which has been in regulators’ and lawmakers’ crosshairs this past year over the sharing of user information with a data-analytics firm that had ties to the Donald Trump presidential campaign…

The lawmakers’ letter to Alphabet CEO Larry Page said recent reports indicate that its Android smartphone operating system collects extensive user-location data and reports it back to Alphabet’s Google unit even when locations services are disabled.

Considering that many consumers likely believe that their phones aren’t actively tracking them when the location services are turned off, “this alleged behavior is troubling,” according to the letter, which was signed by Chairman Greg Walden (R., Ore.) as well as three subcommittee chairmen, Reps. Gregg Harper (R., Miss.), Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) and Robert Latta (R., Ohio).

The letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook raised fewer issues, but posed similar questions about whether Apple smartphones collect and transmit extensive location data. The letter says that Mr. Cook’s statements and Apple’s actions “raise questions about how Apple device users’ data is protected and when it is shared and compiled.”

My take: Cook ought to knock this out of the park so easily—especially compared with Google—that I wonder why these lawmakers bothered to send Apple a letter at all?

4 Comments

  1. Ken Cheng said:

    “why these lawmakers bothered to send Apple a letter at all?”
    Similar to why the Congressional Black Caucus went to visit Apple on its trip to Silicon Valley, to benchmark how the others were doing in comparison. Not all companies have to be laggards when it comes to diversity or privacy.

    2
    July 9, 2018
    • David Emery said:

      My take would be to show some sense of “fairness” across the tech industry.

      It’s a hanging curve, it’ll be interesting to see how Cook swings at this.

      3
      July 9, 2018
    • Gregg Thurman said:

      “to benchmark how the others were doing in comparison.”

      Grand Slam!!

      Could “free” services, financed by data mining, be coming to an end as we know it?

      Wouldn’t that totally disrupt Google/Facebook revenue streams?

      3
      July 9, 2018
  2. John Kirk said:

    Well, I’m not sure that Apple will escape unscathed. Politicians tend to be interested in emotional hype, not cold hard facts, and the cold hard fact is that Apple phones do allow applications to track you, not only when the application is open, but at all times if you opt to do so. And some of those applications may be set that way by default.

    Go to Settings > Google Maps > Location

    or

    Settings > Uber > Location

    You might be surprised to learn that you’re being tracked all the time, not just when you’re using the App.

    0
    July 9, 2018

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