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Apple, Google defend privacy policies in front of US Senate

updated 01:35 pm EDT, Tue May 10, 2011

Executives repeat defense of location policies

As planned, executives from Apple and Google appeared in front of a US Senate judiciary subcommittee on mobile privacy on Tuesday. Speaking on behalf of Apple was the company's VP of software technology, Guy L. "Bud" Tribble, who repeated some of the company's previous positions on mobile privacy. "Apple is strongly committed to giving our customers clear and transparent notice, choice and control over their information, and we believe our products do so in a simple and elegant way," said Tribble.

The VP added that Apple was "never tracking an individual's location" using the iOS 4 location cache, and that the file is closed off from access by Apple or third-party apps. The company's privacy policy is linked on every page of the Apple website, and any location data that is sent to Apple lacks personal or device identifiers, according to Tribble. He repeated an earlier explanation that the cache is only a crowd-sourced collection of information on celltowers and Wi-Fi hotspots that helps to speed up location-finding.

The chairman of the subcommittee, Senator Al Franken, asked both Apple and Google's representatives if they would commit to a solid privacy policy in their app stores. Tribble's response was that while Apple's developer agreement currently omits a privacy policy, adding one would probably not be sufficient. He suggested in fact that mobile operating systems should state explicitly what is being done with data, pointing out that when iOS is performing location functions a purple arrow appears in the OS' status bar.

"Transparency here goes beyond just what's in the privacy policy," claimed Tribble. "It's designing into the app and the system itself information for the user." The executive congratulated his own company on being prompt with responding to issues, referring to the iOS 4.3.3 patch which among other things reduced the amount of location data saved. The cache shouldn't have been retaining information for so long, Tribble stated.

He also revealed that Apple conducts random audits of apps to check on rule compliance, and that it monitors blogs and the "active community" of app users in case of violations. If a violation can't be fixed the title is removed within 24 hours and the developer is notified, Tribble explained.

The Google representative for the hearing was Alan Davidson, a director of public policy for the Americas. He firstly defended the company's collection of data from Wi-Fi hotspots using Street View cars, reiterating the position that the gathering was accidental and not meant to improve Google Maps. "It was a mistake, and we certainly never intended to collect payload information," he said.

The director further contrasted Google with Apple, saying that because Android is open-source, Google takes a hands-off approach to apps once they are put on sale. To protect users, Google warns them about the features apps on the Android Market might use, location services being among them.

The issue of possible wrongdoing on Apple's part was raised by Sen. Franken and Jessica Rich, the deputy director for the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC. At one point in an exchange between the two Franken asked if Apple was being "deceptive" in saying that turning off Location Services would halt data collection; until iOS 4.3.3, the action continued to leave the cache functioning. "If a statement is made by a company that is false, it is a deceptive practice," said Rich, avoiding directing the comment at Apple in particular.

by MacNN Staff



  1. Arne_Saknussemm

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Wonder how much...

    ....Money - Oops - Lobbying it takes to make politician's view point coincide with Apple's or Google's?

    Maybe just a specially branded G or I device with government approved privacy features to be distributed amongst our ruling political representatives. "Regular" citizens will not need one, or so they will say...

    Too cynical? - Your comments

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