Apple, Google appear in Sen. Franken hearing on location tech today

May 10, 2011
Finance

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law is holding a hearing today on whether smartphone users’ rights are being violated by the likes of Apple (AAPL) and its iPhone and iPad, and Google (GOOG) with the Android phone, and their location-based technology. It all was sparked […]

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law is holding a hearing today on whether smartphone users’ rights are being violated by the likes of Apple (AAPL) and its iPhone and iPad, and Google (GOOG) with the Android phone, and their location-based technology.

It all was sparked by the discovery by British researchers last month that iPhones contained an unencrypted file listing the users’ whereabouts for a year. After the usual delay, Apple said it was only keeping a database of hotspots and cell towers and wasn’t tracking us at all. Apple said it plans to revise this with a fix.

Apple hadn’t asked proper permission to do any of this. Google said it asked permission.

Meanwhile, Franken and other politicos, along with privacy rights advocates, started raising a ruckus and demanding explanations and calling for hearings.

Franken said: “(The) hearing is the first step in making certain that federal laws protecting consumers’ privacy—particularly when it comes to mobile devices keep pace with advances in technology.”

In an editorial, The Seattle Times said: “The iPhone privacy scare brought up frightening questions: How safe is this information? Who has access to our most sensitive data? The uncertainty surrounding these questions was compounded because it took Apple a week to prepare an official explanation.”

Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT, told eWeek that public awareness of the issue should be raised about privacy and smartphones, rather than imposing draconian regulation of location-based technology on smartphones.

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“What I think is necessary is that users be made aware of how applications are being used to track their location, and how that data is being stored. The information is useful to the companies collecting it, and can be sorted, analyzed, sold, and used for marketing and advertising,” he said. “Consumers need to be aware of this so that they can make informed decisions about which apps they are willing to allow to collect their user information.”

Those who will be represented at the hearing include Guy Tribble, Apple’s vice president of software technology; Alan Davidson, Google’s director of public policy in the Americas; Federal Communications Commission Deputy Director Jessica Rich; Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jason Weinstein and Justin Brookman, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology.

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