Senator Wants FTC Probe of Apple, Google Over Mobile Privacy
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks during a ceremony in New York City transferring ownership of space shuttle test vehicle Enterprise to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum on Dec. 11, 2011.
CREDIT: NASA/Bill Ingalls
A powerful U.S. senator has called for the Federal Trade Commission to open investigations of Apple and Google over possible violations of user privacy regarding their mobile platforms.
"When someone takes a private photo, on a private cellphone, it should remain just that: private," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., in a press statement. "Smartphone developers have an obligation to protect the private content of their users and not allow them to be veritable treasure troves of private, personal information that can then be uploaded and distributed without the consumer's consent."
Last week, the New York Times' Nick Bilton discovered that Apple grants developers of apps for its iOS mobile platform permission to copy the entire photo library on a user's iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch and upload it to a remote computer.
All the user has to do is grant the app permission to access his or her location information, which many apps ask for.
Over the weekend, Bilton found out that Google's Android mobile platform does the same thing, except that in this case, the user needs only to grant the app Internet access. Any Android app that uses the Internet in any way — i.e., most Android apps — could qualify.
In both instances, Bilton had iOS and Android developers create innocuous-looking apps that uploaded user photos to websites, completely legally.
"It sends shivers up the spine to think that one's personal photos, address book and who-knows-what-else can be obtained and even posted online — without consent," Schumer said. "When a consumer makes a private phone call or sends a letter the old-fashioned way, they have a very reasonable expectation that the communication is private. The same standard must apply to our new technologies, too."
Schumer asked FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz to open a "comprehensive investigation" to find out whether the copying of a user's personal files from a smartphone "constitutes an unfair or deceptive trade practice."
Google, in a statement to IDG News Service, said it was "considering adding a permission for apps to access images."
"We've always had policies in place to remove any apps on Android Market that improperly access your data," Google said in its statement. (Apple did not immediately respond to SecurityNewsDaily's request for comment.)
In a related development, Britain's Channel 4 News discovered that many Android apps share users' personal data with advertisers who place in-app ads. Many free apps, especially games, have such ads.
Like Bilton, Channel 4's Benjamin Cohen had a developer create an app, in this case a Rick Astley photo album that secretly, but legally, sent Cohen's archived text messages, calling log and contacts list to a remote server.
"That is certainly not what you thought you bought into when you downloaded a free-of-charge app," Viviane Reding, the European Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, told Cohen. "That's exactly what we have to change."
This story was provided by SecurityNewsDaily, a sister site to TechNewsDaily.