updated 09:35 pm EDT, Mon April 25, 2011
Location data storage, security to be discussed
Democratic Senator Al Franken, in a follow-up to his letter to Apple asking about the recently-revealed log of general user locations cached on 3G-enabled iOS devices, will hold a hearing on May 10th looking into the overall practice of how mobile OS companies collect, store and handle consumer data, AppleInsider reports. Representatives from Apple and Google have been invited, but haven't yet confirmed their presence. Others due to be in attendance include officials from the Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission and various privacy advocates.
The hearing is titled "Protecting Your Mobile Privacy: Your Smartphones, Tablets, Cell Phones and Your Privacy" and will address concerns "that federal laws concerning consumers' privacy -- particularly when it comes to mobile devices -- keep pace with advances in technology," Franken said in a statement. Senator Franken is the chair of the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy. It will held at 10 a.m. Eastern time and be webcast.
Hearings are often just informational sessions to raise concerns and seek answers to public questions, and are not part of any formal investigation. So far, U.S. officials such as Franken, Massachusetts Representative Edward Markey, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and others have focused on fact-gathering without making any accusations that Apple, Google or other mobile companies are mishandling the data. Questions will likely center around why a lengthy log is needed -- security researchers last week showed that iOS 4 was retaining location data for more than a year -- and what, if anything, it is used for.
Apple has not issued a formal statement on the matter, though CEO Steve Jobs recently took time to respond by e-mail to a concerned customer by claiming that Apple doesn't "track anybody" and that many of the assumptions associated with the expanding story are "false." Google, whose Android OS was also found to collect and store location data, issued a statement denying that the information sent to them was identifiable to specific users, instead saying it was solely tied to unique device identifiers.
A class-action lawsuit against Apple has already been filed by two customers in Florida, claiming they would never have bought the devices if they had known that it had location-tracking features. Like Android devices, Apple's mobile devices ask user permission before collecting location information for use with services such as Google Maps, and of course all cell phones send out location information for the purposes of allowing nearby cell towers to make or complete calls. Emergency services such as 911 also use a mobile device's location information, as do recovery features like Find My iPhone.
Other witnesses at the May 10th hearing will include Ashkan Soltani, an independent privacy researcher, and Justin Brookman, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology's Project on Consumer Privacy. [via AppleInsider]