Lawmakers throw Apple a slow curve, right over the plate

Philip Elmer-DeWitt

Five Republican House members just discovered that tech companies play fast and loose with users’ location data.


From the Wall Street Journal ($):

House lawmakers sent letters Monday to the chief executives of Alphabet Inc. (Google) and Apple Inc. seeking answers about how they handle users’ personal information, including spoken words, email content and location data.

The letters show that privacy concerns in Washington have spread beyond Facebook Inc., which has been in regulators’ and lawmakers’ crosshairs this past year over the sharing of user information with a data-analytics firm that had ties to the Donald Trump presidential campaign…

The lawmakers’ letter to Alphabet CEO Larry Page said recent reports indicate that its Android smartphone operating system collects extensive user-location data and reports it back to Alphabet’s Google unit even when locations services are disabled.

Considering that many consumers likely believe that their phones aren’t actively tracking them when the location services are turned off, “this alleged behavior is troubling,” according to the letter, which was signed by Chairman Greg Walden (R., Ore.) as well as three subcommittee chairmen, Reps. Gregg Harper (R., Miss.), Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) and Robert Latta (R., Ohio).

The letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook raised fewer issues, but posed similar questions about whether Apple smartphones collect and transmit extensive location data. The letter says that Mr. Cook’s statements and Apple’s actions “raise questions about how Apple device users’ data is protected and when it is shared and compiled.”

My take: Cook ought to knock this out of the park so easily—especially compared with Google—that I wonder why these lawmakers bothered to send Apple a letter at all?