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Senator Asks Apple and Google to Require Clear Privacy Policies for Apps

Following up on testimony from Apple and Google representatives regarding mobile privacy, U.S. Senator Al Franken has sent out a letter (PDF) to Apple and Google requesting that the companies require developers to include "clear and understandable" privacy policies for apps available in their marketplaces.
At the hearing, I asked Dr. Tribble and Mr. Davidson whether Apple and Google would commit to requiring that all applications in the Apple App Store and Android App Market have clear and understandable privacy policies. I am writing today to renew this request, and ask if each of your companies would be willing to adopt this simple first step towards further protecting your users' privacy.
Franken notes that the action would not resolve privacy concerns related to mobile apps, but would be an easy and reasonable first step to ensure that customers have appropriate information about what information is being collected and how it is being used.

At a minimum, Franken requests that such privacy policies be required of location-aware applications, although he believes that all applications should be subject to the requirement.
Apple and Google have each said time and again that they are committed to protecting users' privacy. This is an easy opportunity for your companies to put that commitment into action.
Franken has been spearheading legislators' inquiries into mobile privacy since last month's high-profile disclosure of geolocation data being stored on users' devices and in backups on their computers. His initial letter to Apple kicked off congressional interest in the topic and led to the hearing earlier this month attended by Apple's Bud Tribble, Google's Alan Davidson, and several other experts and privacy advocates.

Top Rated Comments

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43 months ago

Google already gives CLEAR instruction on an apps function before you install anything.


Are you kidding? Google is the king of data mining. What do they know about Android users? Who do they sell it to? Why are they SO insistant that all Android phones have Google Maps on them? Clearly they're making money from that being on your phone. How, exactly? Do they know what stores I'm visiting? I dunno, I've never seen them explain all that. Have you? Where do they list it all?
Rating: 11 Votes
43 months ago
The hypocrisy of my country is disgusting. We ask Apple and Google to tell users why their locations are tracked for FEATURES THEY SIGNED UP FOR, but then sign another 4 years of an unamended Patriot Act. Why are my politicians even paid to care about whether Angry Birds knows where I am? What a sad waste of tax dollars. Seriously, **** this place.
Rating: 9 Votes
43 months ago
What a joke. The politicians should force each other to write "clear and understandable" legislation that isn't 2,000 lines long the average isn't capable of comprehending. As always, hypocritical politicians getting in the way.
Rating: 8 Votes
43 months ago
I like how a Senator can ask a company to simply be honest with their customers and it somehow sets off the MacRumors community as an unreasonable outrage.

What a place we got here, huh?
Rating: 8 Votes
43 months ago
Dear U.S. Senator Al Franken;

Any chance you could work on simplifying the 50 page iTunes agreement we have to accept every few weeks ???

Rock on !!
Rating: 7 Votes
43 months ago

Al Franken (Senator Internet) is doing a commendable job of protecting consumers in the digital world. He's doing great work in terms of protecting net neutrality and keeping the internet open.

Apple and Google could save themselves a lot of future problems by agreeing on these standards early and through protecting the privacy of their consumers.

It's only going to take one good event involving a data breach or personal information breach due to lack of digital privacy/security before the public really starts demanding that something be done to protect them from malicious programmers.


The problem is that Apple is actually right on this one when they were asked previously: It isn't enough. The issue of enforcement is one that Fraken is currently hand-waving away and ignoring. Enforcement won't catch all the situations where a developer may lie about the data transfer. How do I validate what an app sends back to the mothership through an encrypted channel, for example?

What Apple has been doing instead is allowing the user to mis-trust the developer and lock them out of the location information if the app asks for it. That is easy to enforce and puts the power in the hands of the user. Unfortunately, it doesn't help situations where an app with legitimate reasons to access the information also uses it for more nefarious purposes, but depending on how nefarious, a privacy policy requirement isn't going to stop it.
Rating: 6 Votes
43 months ago

Wes, are you seriously saying that many bad SCOTUS decisions OVER CENTURIES (!) collectively and cohesively led to this? Come on, this is how the provisions are refined in the entire constitution, and exactly how the founding fathers expected the Constitution to be refined (that is, when they weren't "fighting slavery"... thanks Michelle Bachmann aka one half of Bachmann-Palin Overdrive, the Dumbest People on Earth. I always love that one. And thanks to those brave patriots in Concord, New Hampshire, too, for that shot heard 'round the world and that bridge thingy and stuff).

And to be perfectly honest, the commerce clause as legislated ain't too bad for what it has to cover and the need to strike a balance between federal interests and state interests, which have grown from barter commerce with adjacent states in the beginning to today's astoundingly complex commerce across the continent and the world.


When SCOTUS decided that growing your own wheat, on your own land, for your own personal consumption could be regulated as interstate commerce, I'd say they had refined to about the level of powdered sugar.
Rating: 5 Votes
43 months ago

Computers and the internet were sort of the last refuge of unmitigated freedom and the last wild frontier. We're not likely to colonize space and establish new societies any time soon, so this was pretty much it for us, and now it's slipping away.


What are you talking about?

Right now companies like Google totally own us. You're asking me to believe that if congress wrestles a little bit of that control away it'll be a bad thing for me?

"Freedom?" Please. Don't tell me I have freedom just so you can act like a patriot or George Washington or something. The opposite of "the government owns you" isn't freedom. No, it's "a company owns you." Pick one or the other, I don't care, but don't try and tell me that "freedom" is some magical 3rd option.
Rating: 4 Votes
43 months ago

FRanken, who has voted for TWO bills that are now law, both of which GUT privacy protections for health care information, can shove his demands for privacy where the sun don't shine.

In fact, why the hell is the Attorney General not launching an investigation into these senators who think they can violate the first amendment by dictating to Apple what they do and don't publish on the appstore?

Violations of anyones constitutional rights is a felony under USC 18-242.

(the two bills were the "Stimulus" bill which had very little to do with actually stimulating the economy, but does require hospitals to turn over all health care info to the federal government and obamacare which turns all health information over tie the IRS.)


First, as an Econgeek, you should make yourself aware of the Commerce Clause (Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3), which gives Congress the specific power to regulate commerce. The buying and selling of software products constitutes commerce and is subject to regulation. Franken has a right to *request* that Apple and Google make such changes, both as a Senator, and as a private citizen (you can do it too). It's not the same as passing legislation, which Congress could also do under these powers, and it has nothing to do with First Amendment rights.

Second, the Stimulus Bill sets up a long term provision to computerize health care records, and establish federal guidelines on the structure of the records, so that they could be shared across platforms and systems. Records could be shared among health plans/providers, but individuals would have the opportunity to opt out of such sharing. It in no way gives your health care information to the federal government. It is estimated that 200,000 jobs could be created by this provision.

Third, Obama's health plan works the other way: the IRS must report to the Health Commissioner the income records of those who apply for federal assistance in purchasing qualified health plans. Your health care records do not go to the IRS.
Rating: 4 Votes
43 months ago

Apps are sold across state lines, meaning Congress has jurisdiction.


Unfortunately you are correct, thanks to many spectacularly bad Supreme Court decisions over the centuries.

It was intended quite literally to regulate interstate commerce - to prevent states from punishing other states by erecting trade barriers. It was not intended to give the federal government absolute power over a person or company just because they sell something across state lines. Some jurisprudence eliminates the across state lines bit entirely.

It means that now, unfortunately. It's why the federal government has absolute legislative authority.
Rating: 4 Votes

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