During the last couple of months, there has been considerable controversy about mobile applications’ downloading data after it was revealed that photo-sharing mobile application Path uploaded users’ entire address books without permission, and there was substantial public criticism of the company’s actions. House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and Commerce Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee Chair G.K. Butterfield wrote to (pdf) Apple questioning this privacy issue. Apple responded (pdf, February 15) to the complaints by stating that “Apps that collect or transmit a user’s contact data without their prior permission are in violation of our guidelines” and that it would require explicit permission for apps to collect the address book information. The company also sent a follow-up letter (pdf, March 2) to Congress with more information.
Then it was revealed that both Apple’s iOS mobile devices (iPhone, iPod, iPad) and Google’s Android mobile devices allowed apps to access users’ photos if users allowed location datasharing (in the case of Apple) or if the app can go on the Internet (Google). There was public outrage, and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Google and Apple over these privacy problems.
Now, Reps. Waxman and Butterfield have sent a follow-up letter to Apple seeking answers about the photo privacy issue.
The March 2 reply we received from Apple does not answer a number of the questions we raised about the company’s efforts to protect the privacy and security of its mobile device users. In addition, subsequent to our letter, concerns have been raised about the manner in which apps can access photographs on your mobile devices and tools provided by Apple to consumers to prevent unwanted online tracking. To help us understand these issues, we request that you make available representatives to brief our staff on the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Looks like Apple will need to come to Capitol Hill to explain its privacy policies and how they protect customers.