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

Last 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.

Top Rated Comments

(View all)
Avatar
113 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)
Avatar
113 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)
Avatar
113 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)
Avatar
113 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)
Avatar
113 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)
Avatar
113 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)

Top Stories

Samsung Mocks Apple for Ditching Power Adapters With iPhone 12 Lineup

Thursday October 15, 2020 11:51 am PDT by
Samsung on its social channels is mocking Apple for removing the power adapter from the iPhone 12 lineup and other iPhone models, pointing out the fact that the Samsung Galaxy smartphones continue to ship with a power adapter. "Included with your Galaxy," reads a Samsung Facebook post that features a picture of a power adapter. Apple notably is no longer providing power adapters or...

iPhone 12 Pro Pre-Orders Already Selling Out With Delivery Times Pushing Into November

Friday October 16, 2020 6:35 am PDT by
Apple today opened pre-orders for the 6.1-inch models of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro through its website and the Apple Store app, and estimated delivery times are already slipping into November for select configurations in the United States. Customers ordering a SIM-free/Pacific Blue/128GB version of the iPhone 12 Pro, for example, are already facing an estimated delivery window of...

HomePod Mini Cable is Non-Detachable, Ends With USB-C Connector for Use With Included 20W Power Adapter

Friday October 16, 2020 12:45 pm PDT by
While not detailed in the tech specs, MacRumors can confirm that Apple's new HomePod mini features a non-detachable power cable that ends with a USB-C connector for use with the 20W power adapter included in the box. With the switch to USB-C, the HomePod mini could potentially be powered by a wider range of devices and peripherals, ranging from MacBooks to USB-C battery packs with enough...

Apple's New MagSafe Charger and Cases Begin Arriving to Customers

Saturday October 17, 2020 10:10 am PDT by
Apple's new MagSafe charger and cases have begun arriving to some customers earlier than expected, and images of the accessories have started to surface on Twitter. The photos provide a first look at the products in real-world use. As of writing, some MagSafe cases are also available for pickup at select Apple Stores in countries like the United States, Canada, and Germany. Filip...

New Google App Feature Lets You Hum a Song to Search for It

Saturday October 17, 2020 4:05 am PDT by
Google has added a new feature to its Search app that allows you to hum a song that's stuck in your head, and then use the company's machine learning algorithm to try and identify it. In the Google app or using the Google Search widget, tap the mic icon and say "what's this song?" or click the "Search a song" button. Then start humming the tune for 10-15 seconds. When you're done, the...

Brazilian Certifications Suggest iPhone 12 Mini Features 2,227mAh Battery and iPhone 12 Has 2,815mAh Battery

Friday October 16, 2020 1:08 pm PDT by
Apple's iPhone mini has the shortest battery life out of all the iPhones in the iPhone 12 lineup due to its small size, but Apple has not provided public information about the battery's capacity. A regulatory filing from Brazil, however, suggests the iPhone 12 mini has a battery capacity of 2,227mAh. The same regulatory information says the iPhone 12 features a 2,815mAh battery, which is...

Apple Offering Free AirPods With iPhone 11 Purchase in India as Part of Diwali Celebration

Friday October 16, 2020 12:35 pm PDT by
Apple today launched a new Diwali promotion in India that will see the company providing customers with a set of AirPods with the purchase of any iPhone 11 model. The new iPhone 12 models are not part of the promotion. Apple is offering the standard AirPods With Charging Case free with purchase, but customers can choose to upgrade to the AirPods with Wireless Charging Case or the AirPods Pro....

Apple Event to Unveil First Apple Silicon Macs Could Happen on November 17

Friday October 16, 2020 2:24 am PDT by
Apple will hold another digital event on November 17 to announce its first Apple Silicon powered Macs, according to frequent leaker Jon Prosser. Apple has already said that this year it intends to introduce the first Mac powered by an Apple Silicon chip instead of an Intel processor. One thing it hasn't revealed is the date it will be announced. According to Prosser's source, that date is No...

Apple Online Store Down Ahead of iPhone 12 and 12 Pro Pre-Orders

Thursday October 15, 2020 11:15 pm PDT by
Apple's online store is down ahead of iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro pre-orders, which are set to begin at 5:00 a.m. Pacific Time in the United States. "You're... early," reads the Apple Store message when attempting to visit the U.S. website. "Pre-order begins at 5:00 a.m. PDT. Enjoy the extra sleep." Apple used to do new device pre-orders at 12:01 a.m. Pacific Time, but since last year, has...

When You Can Pre-Order the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro in Every Time Zone

Thursday October 15, 2020 10:55 am PDT by
Pre-orders for the iPhone 12 and the iPhone 12 Pro are set to kick off on Friday, October 16 at 5:00 a.m. Pacific Time, which is a new launch time that Apple adopted as of last year. Apple is planning to make the new devices available in multiple countries around the world simultaneously, so we've made a guide to let MacRumors readers know when pre-orders will in their country. Pre-orders...