Congress Weighs in on iOS Apps Collecting Address Book and Other Personal Data

path address bookLast week, controversy erupted when it was discovered that the popular iOS app Path was uploading users' entire address books to the company's servers without alerting users or asking for authorization. While Path quickly deleted all address book data on its servers and updated its app to make the data collection an opt-in service, the issue has cast a fresh light on user privacy issues on iOS.

As noted by The Next Web, U.S. Congressmen Henry Waxman and G.K. Butterfield have now weighed on in the issue, sending a letter to Apple requesting information on the company's data collection policies it imposes on App Store developers.

In a letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook, the legislators state:

"This incident raises questions about whether Apple’s iOS app developer policies and practices may fall short when it comes to protecting the information of iPhone users and their contacts."

Butterfield and Waxman then quote parts of Apple’s iOS developer website which states that Apple provides a comprehensive collection of tools and frameworks for storing, accessing and sharing data. It is then questioned whether Apple requires apps to request user permission before transmitting data about a user.

Butterfield and Waxman have requested that Apple provide answers to a series of questions by February 29, with the topics including Apple's definition of user data, how the App Store review process assesses compliance with guidelines on privacy, and data on how many apps transmit "data about a user" in general and address book data in particular. The Congressmen have also asked Apple to explain why it has not instituted a simple toggle setting for address book sharing as it has for location information.

It is not terribly unusual for Congress to request information from companies when issues related to consumer protection and privacy arise, and Apple was subject to a similar process when questions about location information arose last year. In that case, Senator Al Franken contacted Apple with questions about the company's policies, with executives from Apple and Google later testifying in a Senate hearing on the matter.

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Top Rated Comments

ChazUK Avatar
160 months ago
This whole fisaco is why I like to see a list of permissions before installing an app, ala WP7/Android.
Flashlight app wants full internet access, location and contacts? No install for you!

Example:
Score: 17 Votes (Like | Disagree)
gnasher729 Avatar
160 months ago
If an app uploads my complete address book to their servers, which is absolutely no ****ing business of theirs, then Apple should refund the money to all purchasers, remove the app permanently, and ban the developer. There is just no excuse in the world for that.


iOS should display a request when an App requires access to user data (address book, photos, etc), anything that is external to the App itself.

Isn't that what the new App Sandboxing is about in Lion?
No. Sandboxing isn't about asking permission, it is about being able to do something or not. An app can request the ability to access your address book or not. If it requests it, it can. If it doesn't, it can't. They idea is that when deciding to accept the app or not, Apple will check whether the app has requested the ability, and if the app has any good reason to do so.

Another thing is that Apple can eventually provide sandboxed code to do things. For example, some code that lets the user choose a name from the address book and send an email to that person. That code would live in its little sandbox with access to address book and email. However, the rest of the application wouldn't be able to access the address book. So a game could allow you to send a picture to a friend that way, without itself being able to read your address book.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Yvan256 Avatar
160 months ago
iOS should display a request when an App requires access to user data (address book, photos, etc), anything that is external to the App itself.

Isn't that what the new App Sandboxing is about in Lion?
Score: 9 Votes (Like | Disagree)
ppilone Avatar
160 months ago
For the love of all things important my people's government- go work on some real fricken issues; and stay the hell out of what you have no clue about.

Oh wait...

So Congress can't do their job 9 times out of 10, and the 1 time they pressure a company to answer legitimate questions regarding consumer privacy you're equally as mad?
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)
samcraig Avatar
160 months ago
Google has a complete record of people's emails, voicemails, websurfing habits (remember, with the new "privacy policy" they are indexing your entire web existence if you use their 8.8.8.8 DNS), Google+ friends and interactions, the list is almost endless.


Slight difference I believe. If I'm using someone's services for my email and contact information - I can pretty much assume - since they are HOSTING that info - they have access to it.

However - this is completely differerent. A private device with personal data which is then being unknowingly uploaded to 3rd parties without consent.

If you don't see the difference, well....
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
3460169 Avatar
160 months ago
Apple needs to be much more careful about privacy if they insist on making their iOS devices so simplistic that average Joe End User potentially has no idea what a given app is doing behind the scenes as in the Path example. We can't count on XYZ Developer being honest (and asking for permission to, e.g., scan my address book) or competent but the maintainers and enforcers of the Walled Garden certainly ought to be. We're handing off a lot of trust value to Apple to get this right.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)