Lawmakers to probe smartphone data collection

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Google and Apple are facing heat from U.S. and foreign lawmakers over the discovery that their smartphone and tablet devices are collecting and storing information about users' locations.

A U.S. Senate subcommittee plans to hold a hearing next month to investigate revelations disclosed last week that Apple's iPhone and iPad devices and Google's Android smartphones track users' locations. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., has summoned representatives from Apple and Google to appear before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law to discuss mobile privacy, scheduled for May 10.

“This hearing is the first step in making certain that federal laws protecting consumers' privacy – particularly when it comes to mobile devices – keep pace with advances in technology,” Franken said in a statement Monday.

“I want to know whether consumers have been informed of what is being tracked and stored by Apple and Google...”

– Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan

The issue rose to prominence late last week after two researchers disclosed that Apple devices running iOS version 4 contain a file that logs, with a timestamp, users' longitude and latitude coordinates. Also last week, a separate security researcher revealed that Google regularly transmits the location data of users' Android smartphones back to a central server.

Several other U.S. government officials have expressed concern over the reported data collection, including Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass. Privacy regulators in France, Germany, Italy and South Korea are also reportedly investigating the matter.

“I want to know whether consumers have been informed of what is being tracked and stored by Apple and Google and whether those tracking and storage features can be disabled,” Madigan said in a statement Monday. “It's important that these companies ensure that their users' private information is protected.”

Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission have confirmed they will testify at the May 10 subcommittee hearing, along with several privacy experts, including Ashkan Soltani, an independent privacy researcher, and Justin Brookman, director of the Center for Democracy and Technology's project on consumer privacy.

Although Apple has remained mum on the topic, failing to respond to numerous interview requests made by SCMagazineUS.com and other news outlets, Google said it will work with lawmakers.

“We look forward to engaging with policymakers about how we protect our users' mobile privacy," a Google spokeswoman told SCMagazineUS.com on Tuesday. "We provide users with notice and control over the collection, sharing and use of location in order to provide a better mobile experience on Android devices. Any location data that is sent back to Google location servers is anonymized and is not tied or traceable to a specific user."

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